Kliff Kingsbury can be a successful NFL coach

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 09: Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to the media at the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility on January 9, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 09: Arizona Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks to the media at the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility on January 9, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

The Arizona Cardinals made perhaps the  boldest coaching move of the 2019 hiring cycle when they selected the coach with a losing record at Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury comes into Arizona turning the heads of everyone. For some it’s the Ryan Gosling looks, for others it is the exciting offensive mind that coached league MVP Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech.

But for a lot of the national media, their heads are turned because the team hired the collegiate coach with a losing record. The 39-year old Tech alumni, finished his career at his alma mater with a 35-40 coaching record. During his time at Texas Tech, Kingsbury coached notable NFL talents such as Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, and Davis Webb.

Everyone will know the Cardinals struggles in 2018 stemmed from a weak offense.  They finished dead last in every major offensive category. Kingsbury was brought in to fix that offense, in particular the teams franchise quarterback, Josh Rosen. Kingsbury was reportedly the only coach to request film on Rosen, and present to team owner Michael Bidwill his plans to help the young Quarterback develop.

The biggest knock that the national media throw at Kingsbury is not only his lack of success at the College level, but the lack of successful College coaches that jump to the NFL ranks. If guys like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban could not succeed in the league, why would a losing collegiate coach succeed? This argument holds some weight, but not all.

For starters, when scouting collegiate quarterbacks scouts try to avoid looking at their win-loss record. It’s what they do on the field that matters.

As a coach there is a little more you have to do. Kingsbury checks all the boxes with the exception of recruiting. He has been able to develop NFL talent at the Quarterback position and develop good offenses. While he holds a losing record as a coach, the product on the field shows promise for success.

The other factor to keep in mind is the history of collegiate coaches. There are three coaches that are often brought up in this argument. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, and Chip Kelly. People talk about their records as coaches, but fail to see the General Managers they worked with.

Steve Spurrier coached the Washington Redskins for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Spurrier worked with Director of Player Personnel Vinny Cerrato.

Cerrato held his position from 2000-2009. In that time span, he managed two playoff squads, and finished above .500 four times. The Redskins win-loss percentage during his tenure was .375. The two seasons he had with Spurrier, the Redskins were .375. Spurrier went 12-20 during his tenure in Washington.

Saban worked with Randy Mueller during his two season stint with the Miami Dolphins. Mueller spent nine seasons as a General Manager or as the Vice President of Player Personnel. In those nine seasons, Mueller posted a winning percentage of .444 and developing only one playoff squad. His two seasons with Nick Saban saw him go .469.

And finally is Chip Kelly. What is tough to determine about Kelly is whether or not he was a poor general manager or a poor head coach.

Kelly worked with Howie Roseman during his tenure in Philadelphia. Roseman was not in charge of the roster however, as Kelly wanted the freedom to build his own roster.

He finished his tenure in Philadelphia with a .553 record. Roseman has gone .604 since taking control in 2016. Kelly did find success early in his tenure, but was not able to sustain the success, ultimately leading to being fired.

Kelly went on to San Francisco where his only season saw the team go 2-14. He and Trent Baalke were subsequently fired. Baalke was .578 prior to Kelly, and finished his tenure in San Francisco with a .513 percentage.

Baalke however saw the 49ers slowly fall into the abyss. Jim Harbaugh and the team separated the season prior after going 5-11. The glory days of three straight playoff seasons, culminating in a NFC Conference lost, a Super Bowl loss, and another NFC Conference lost, were over.

What does this all mean?

It means pairing Kingsbury with a proven commodity at the general manager position should lead to success. Steve Keim’s greatest success came when Bruce Arians was the head coach, but poor draft classes, and aging veterans who were relied upon early, began to fail.

Keim is a good general manager, finding gems in guys like David Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu, and John Brown. Keim will be a gentle hand in Kingsbury’s early stages, helping run the business side of being a head coach, allowing Kingsbury to run the X’s and O’s aspect of his job.

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Only time will tell if Kingsbury will be able to buck the trend of collegiate coaches failing in the NFL. Early indications look promising, but there was promise during the early stages of Steve Wilks tenure as well.