Kliff Kingsbury fired as Arizona Cardinals head coach
The Arizona Cardinals fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Monday after a 4-13 season, his fourth on the job.
A statement said Kingsbury was “relieved of his duties,” adding that general manager Steve Keim “has decided to step away from his position in order to focus on his health.”
Keim had been on a health-related leave of absence since Dec. 14.
“The team wishes them well and thanks both of them for their contributions,” the release added.
Kingsbury finishes his Cardinals tenure with a 28-37-1 record (.432) and a single postseason appearance in 2021. He is let go as Arizona and owner Michael Bidwill navigate the uncertainty that comes with the health-related absence of general manager Steve Keim.
Kingsbury was under contract through the 2027 season after his original deal, which included a 2023 team option, was extended in March 2022. Keim’s contract was jointly extended that length as well.
Arizona hired Kingsbury in January 2019 after a one-year tenure of Steve Wilks (2018) followed a relatively successful run by Bruce Arians (2013-17).
Kingsbury, hired when he was 39 years old, had gone 35-40 as head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders from 2013-18 before he was fired. He briefly accepted a job as the USC Trojans’ offensive coordinator before the Cardinals pursued him for their head-coaching vacancy.
It was a controversial hire, but Kingsbury’s offensive mind and playing experience at Texas Tech under Air Raid co-founder Mike Leach was touted by the team as progressive. Kingsbury played for the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick among his NFL stops before an international career ended in the Canadian Football League in 2007.
After hiring Kingsbury, Arizona drafted quarterback Kyler Murray first overall to quarterback the offense and traded 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen. The team paired the new NFL head coach with experienced defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals tenure
The rookie quarterback and head coach went 5-10-1 in their first season — the tie came in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions behind a rally by Murray in his first NFL game — and took another step forward in 2020 with an 8-8 record after Keim traded running back David Johnson in a package for All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The Cardinals made another three-game improvement for an 11-6 finish in 2021 but did so after an 8-1 start was followed by injuries to Hopkins and defensive end J.J. Watt.
Eleven games into the year, Arizona was 9-2. Backup Colt McCoy had gone 2-1 in place of an injured Murray and a road win in Cleveland with Kingsbury away from the team and in COVID-19 protocols. It was going so well that Kingsbury’s name was even attached to the Oklahoma Sooners’ open head coach job in a tweet by Schefter.
But Arizona went 3-5 to finish the year before a 34-11 blowout in the NFC Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Kingsbury and Keim received their extensions despite the disappointing finish.
The troubling signs to end the 2021 season ultimately continued and were too much for Kingsbury to overcome.
Arizona’s offense floundered despite the front office equipping it with tight end Zach Ertz, re-signing running back James Conner and trading for Hollywood Brown and Robbie Anderson to place around Hopkins.
It added to the narrative about Kingsbury’s inability to be creative and adjust.
Including the 2022 season and dating back to his first season at Texas Tech in 2013, Kingsbury went 45-24-1 in the first seven weeks of the football season.
The head coach’s teams collectively posted an 18-55 record after the first seven games of the season.
Kingsbury’s teams struggled mightily when playing from behind as well. The Cardinals have gone 6-30-1 when they faced any halftime deficit.
Murray and Kingsbury in their fourth year together reportedly had a tense relationship, according to reports — and sideline evidence. Murray posted his worst QBR and passer rating of his career in 2022.
Why the Cardinals hired Kingsbury
To begin his coaching career, Kingsbury joined a Houston Cougars staff led by Kevin Sumlin and progressed up the ladder quickly, becoming a co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2010-11. He and Sumlin jumped to Texas A&M in 2012 before Kingsbury filled the Texas Tech head-coaching opening a year later.
Texas Tech reached the six-win mark three times in six seasons. Under Kingsbury’s tutelage, now-Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for a nation-leading 5,052 yards in his junior season in 2016, while Texas Tech’s offense finished eighth in the country in total yards.
After Texas Tech finished 5-7 in 2018, the school decided to not retain Kingsbury for the 2019 season.
Kingsbury was hired by USC less than a month later to become its next offensive coordinator.
Before entering the NFL, Kingsbury’s best season as Texas Tech coach was his first one in 2013. The Red Raiders went 8-5 and won the Holiday Bowl over then-No. 16 Arizona State. They were ranked as high as No. 10 in the country that season.
It originally appeared as though Kingsbury wouldn’t be able to interview for NFL jobs soon after he was fired from Texas Tech. Reports indicated USC was denying interview requests.
But on Jan. 7, 2019, multiple reports surfaced saying that Kingsbury would begin interviewing for pro jobs — and that the Cardinals and Jets were interested. That same day, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Cardinals and Kingsbury had “strong mutual interest” in each other.
According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Kingsbury had a buyout in his USC contract for $150,000 to resign that the Cardinals were expected to take care of.
Perhaps more important to the Cardinals on Kingsbury’s resume than his playcalling success was his history with star quarterbacks. Kingsbury coached Case Keenum (Houston), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Davis Webb (Texas Tech) and Mahomes (Texas Tech).
Arizona hired Kingsbury coming off first-round pick Rosen’s first season in the NFL but also had the No. 1 pick, where Murray was potentially the top prospect and a Heisman winner.
Murray last offseason got a franchise-record contract extension off his rookie deal, reportedly worth up to $230 million. Now, with Kliff Kingsbury gone, he and the Cardinals await who gets the next shot at bringing the best out of him and the team.