The Kliff Kingsbury era in Arizona was certainly something else

Jan 10, 2023, 6:18 PM

And like that, Kliff Kingsbury’s time in the desert is now just a thing of the past following his firing by the Arizona Cardinals on Monday.

Kingsbury’s tenure in the Valley had its ups and certainly had its downs, especially when taking into account a 4-13 mark in his final season. And his departure wasn’t only about Xs and Os.

A closer look at some of the moments that stick out over the course of Kingsbury’s career as a Cardinal:

“Josh is our guy”

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Nothing like a little quarterback controversy the first day on the job!

That tends to happen when you own the No. 1 pick, quarterback Kyler Murray is on the board and second-year quarterback Josh Rosen’s NFL future is already in question.

While he was still coaching at Texas Tech, Kingsbury — unknowingly at the time — did his future self no favors in the narrative, proclaiming he would draft Murray with the No. 1 pick.

The writing was on the wall during his introductory press conference in Arizona, but Kingsbury still tried his best at keeping his poker face that February afternoon.

“Our feelings toward Josh haven’t waned or changed or anything,” he told reporters.

“I get we have the first pick and there’s going to be a million scenarios over the next three months that are going to come up. No — Josh is our guy. Kyler is a tremendous player. I said that, was being very complementary before playing an opponent. I understand the soundbite.”

Two months later, Murray held up a Cardinals uniform as the team’s No. 1 pick on Day 1 of the draft and Rosen was out of town on Day 2 via a trade to the Miami Dolphins for a 2019 second-round pick and a fifth rounder in 2020.

The second-round compensation, however, would end up resulting in very little production, with Arizona selecting wide receiver Andy Isabella. He was a player Kingsbury was very high on and a WR the head coach felt could help stretch the offense.

That never came to fruition, with Isabella recording 33 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns over 39 games played before his release this past season.

As for that fifth-round pick in 2020, the Cardinals flipped that back to the Dolphins for running back Kenyan Drake, who was productive in his 23 games played over two seasons with Arizona behind 1,598 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.

Everybody clap their hands

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The first preseason of the Kingsbury-Murray experiment certainly had its odd moments, none more so than the clapping fiasco of 2019.

Taking a page out of the college books, Murray began his NFL career hiking the ball by clapping.

It could make for an easier transition for Murray as he began his rookie season. The method, however, can be a visual cue for defenders. As a way to counteract that, the QB implemented fake snaps in as a way to keep defenses on their toes.

But just because it works at the college ranks, doesn’t mean it does in the NFL.

And we all got a front-row seat as to why.

In the team’s preseason loss to the then-Oakland Raiders, Murray was dinged with a pair of false start penalties over the course of four series.

Per NFL rules, “any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start.”

With Kingsbury already being viewed as a questionable hire given his track record, that was not a good look.

“I think it’s first time for certain officials to see it,” Arizona’s head coach said pregame. “We’ve been in the contact with the league and had a great conversation on it, and we’re going to work on it and make sure we’re on the same page.

“It’s just been an ongoing conversation of what you can and cannot do with your movement and so we’re working through that.”

Luckily for all parties involved, the clapping — along with the penalties — took a backseat moving forward. It was all part of Kingsbury’s learning curve in his first season that resulted in a 5-10-1 record, two wins more than the Steve Wilks-led 2018 squad.

Now, that’s some prime real estate

(Arizona Cardinals photo)

When COVID-19 forced coaches and GMs to conduct the 2020 NFL Draft from home, Kingsbury stole the virtual show with a war room setup inside his swanky Paradise Valley home.

If you remember one thing from that draft, it was probably Kingsbury manor. The flex was real on that one.

“I just wanted to have some fun with it,” Kingsbury said after the picture went viral. “Show off the Chamber of Commerce weather we have here in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. Just enjoy it all.”

Kingsbury’s house — and his giant lion poster, because, you know, he’s a Leo — has since made an appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks In Season: Arizona Cardinals.

Maybe he’s onto something?

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Aside from the hand claps and the housing, Kingsbury was in fact showing progress at the NFL level.

In addition to seeing improvement from Murray, Arizona was slowly but surely putting more and more wins on the board, jumping from five in Year 1 to eight in Year 2. They were starting to put together high-caliber Ws, most notably the improbable Hail Murray in Week 10 of 2020, before an impressive run really kicked 2021 into gear.

Rattling off seven-straight wins and looking like a legit playoff contender, Arizona was firing on all cylinders behind a strong defense and powerful offense.

It was the type of turnaround the Cardinals’ front office had envisioned when they went with the out-of-the-box hire of Kingsbury in 2019.

The offense was killer, Murray was looking like an MVP candidate and the organization looked on top of the world.

But just as Cardinals fans started planning their postseason around the team, Arizona fell straight off a cliff following a last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The backend of the season was nothing like the first half for Arizona, which watched a 7-0 mark turn into a 11-6 finish before an embarrassing NFC Wild Card exit in Los Angeles.

Among the biggest factors in the downfall was the losses of DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt during that critical time. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Kingsbury wasn’t able to adjust in their absences.

That run to begin the year will be remembered by many as Kingsbury’s best moment as a head coach, especially since he never got close to regaining any of that success in his final season on the job.

A coach and his QB

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Despite the head coach joining the organization first, Kingsbury and Murray pretty much came into the league as a packaged deal.

The head coach had wanted to work with Murray in the past, and the signal caller seemed to be all for working with Kingsbury given their Texas connections and the former college coach’s philosophy offensively.

But for whatever good the two had together, the shots of the mid-game disagreements caught by cameras will be something many look back on when remembering Kingsbury’s time in Arizona.

We saw a lot of that this season, with Murray having words with Kingsbury and even wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins at different points in the year.

At the end of the day, Kingsbury and Murray chalked it up to being passionate about getting things back on track. That’s fine if the results are backing up the antics.

I’ll be very interested to see how that kind of back-and-forth flies with whoever is in charge moving forward.

Credit where credit’s due

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

If there’s one thing Kingsbury deserves credit for, it’s that his players did not give up on him despite the complete dumpster fire that was 2022.

Being able to relate to players is key in building a relationship with players and Kingsbury did that. Though the term “player coach” can typically carry a negative connotation, the former head coach had the respect from many inside the locker room.

He treated his players like grown men — a method that he even questioned during a postgame talk to the team that the cameras picked up during an episode of Hard Knocks — and provided a voice that could relate to his athletes.

But the having that type of mentality can also bring about questions when the going gets tough and the product on the field is clearly lacking, specifically this season with the absurd amount of penalties and Murray’s regression at the forefront of the issues.


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The Kliff Kingsbury era in Arizona was certainly something else