Kliff Kingsbury’s focus is unmistakable.
He is calling the Cardinals’ plays. He is creating their offense, and he is coaching their quarterbacks. He loves the Xs and Os of his job.
“Right now, it’s where I feel the most comfortable and where I think I can be the most beneficial,” Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury’s title is not offensive coordinator, however. It is head coach, a job that involves much more than one position or one side of the ball. The focus externally will be what Kingsbury does with this offense on the NFL level, and no one is questioning how deep in the weeds he will be.
That doesn’t mean Kingsbury hasn’t already made his mark with the team in total.
“He’s the man, for sure,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said with a smile. “We don’t second-guess that at all. One thing I love about coach, he has this quiet confidence.”
The Cardinals made sure Kingsbury’s jump from college to the NFL included a support system. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph not only runs his side of the ball, he also has experience as former Denver Broncos’ head coach that he can convey to Kingsbury. Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers is also assistant head coach, having been with five other head coaches in his career and owner of his own knowledge.
Kingsbury also has talked with other head coaches in the league – particularly those who have been heavily involved in coaching quarterbacks and running the offense.
“I think there are a lot of different ways you can set it up,” Kingsbury said. “You see people around the league who are heavily involved in playcalling, some that take more of the CEO approach, and all have been wildly successful. It’s all how you set it up, the type of people you have around you and how you build your staff.”
The staff was crucial. Rodgers makes the point that, unlike many new staffs in which a chunk of the assistants had already worked together at some point, the Cardinals have coaches from all over. Kingsbury vetted all of them but the contact came through General Manager Steve Keim, most of the veterans in the NFL with ideas of their own they can contribute to Kingsbury’s learning curve.
Trial and error is inevitable – “There will definitely be some of that,” Kingsbury said – but it’s also not as if Kingsbury hasn’t been a head coach.
“Whatever he needs, I’m here for him, but he’s the head coach,” Joseph said. “I’ve done it before, hopefully we’ll have better results with K2, but he’s been great. He’s been a head coach before. He’s in full control. But he’s humble, that’s his personality, he’s just being himself, and that’s why we want to win for him.”
Linebacker Pete Robertson played for Kingsbury for three years at Texas Tech. He might be on the other side of the ball, but he sees the “genius” in Kingsbury when it comes to offensive football. And as a head coach, Robertson said, Kingsbury is “great.”
“When it comes down to him speaking Xs and Os, that’s his type of language,” Robertson said. “He wants to be hands on. He wants to be able to understand the players he has, so he can use them to the best of their ability.”
It isn’t as if he ignores other parts of the team. Joseph said Kingsbury meets with him daily to discuss the defense and the personnel on that side of the ball. Rodgers said Kingsbury and he will have any number of conversations about topics across the gamut of running a team, whether it be practice structure or travel planning.
Even offensively, Kingsbury has made sure to take suggestions for the best scenarios.
“I think they understood I’m not one of these guys who will yell at you for trying to get it right,” Kingsbury said. “I want to get it right, regardless of how it’s done.”
That open-mindedness was one of the factors in his favor when the Cardinals made the hire.
“As a first-time (NFL) head coach, nobody has all the answers,” Keim said. “That job is humbling and as long as you take it with the mindset ‘I will lean on some of the people that I trust when I have questions,’ that’s all you can ask for. He’s been phenomenal in that area.
“He has a great core philosophy. He’s got a great demeanor. Players really like him, which is important because they have to buy in to what he is selling.”
As a head coach, what Kingsbury is selling is the business-like atmosphere he wants for his team. Defensive tackle Corey Peters said there have been a number of team-wide meetings that last all of two or three minutes.
“My favorite thing about Kliff is he is straight to the point,” Peters said. “He doesn’t waste any time, especially in his meetings, he says what he needs to say and it’s done.”
That isn’t because Kingsbury doesn’t know what to say. It’s because he believes in the professionalism of his players, and he has no interest in inefficiency. That’s why his practices will sometimes finish early, why he believes in breaks during practices and meetings but also why, if a play doesn’t work to his satisfaction in practice, he’ll usually demand the players do it again.
Kingsbury may get deep inside the guts of the offense, but he knows wins and losses will be all encompassing.
“He didn’t come in with a motto, he didn’t come in with a slogan,” center A.Q. Shipley said. “He wanted to coach football and that’s what he’s done.”
Images from Saturday afternoon at State Farm Stadium