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College Relationships Help Kliff Kingsbury, Steve Keim Navigate Draft

Cardinals received good info on draft picks Isaiah Simmons, Josh Jones

Kliff Kingsbury, shown here with Dana Holgorsen after a 2018 game between Texas Tech and West Virginia, received valuable input from his friend about draft pick Josh Jones.
Kliff Kingsbury, shown here with Dana Holgorsen after a 2018 game between Texas Tech and West Virginia, received valuable input from his friend about draft pick Josh Jones.

Information is king during the pre-draft evaluation process, and Kliff Kingsbury has been unwittingly stockpiling it for more than a decade.

The Cardinals coach held various jobs on the collegiate level for 11 years prior to 2019, which helped pay off in Friday's third-round selection of Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones.

Kingsbury tried to recruit Jones to Texas Tech in 2015, but the Richmond, Texas native rebuffed the offer and signed with the University of Houston. Despite the misfire, Kingsbury still got to know a teenaged Jones, and he revisited those interactions during this year's evaluation process.

"He had great focus even then," Kingsbury said. "You could tell he wanted to be a good player. I'm really happy to get to work with him after he turned me down initially."

General Manager Steve Keim has talked often about missing on a player's passion and mental acuity more than his physical attributes. For that reason, the Cardinals have always put plenty of resources into figuring out a player's personality.

For the first two picks this year, there has been a deep reservoir of research available.

Keim's offensive line coach in college, Robbie Caldwell, now has the same role at Clemson, where first-round pick Isaiah Simmons played the past four years. Keim has also held a longtime relationship with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

"I feel like I had great intel on the player and a lot of great information from the program," Keim said. "The thing that really excites me is the character and the player match."

Kingsbury took the lead on Friday. In addition to the relationship with Jones, Kingsbury is also close friends with Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen, who got him into coaching as Houston's offensive quality control coach in 2008.

Kingsbury also knows well Houston's offensive line coach, Brandon Jones, who was with him at Texas Tech for two years.

"We definitely had some good relationships there," Kingsbury said.

Keim understands that college coaches prefer their players get drafted as early as possible, because it is good for the kid and reflects well on their program. However, a strong friendship can result in a more honest conversation about a player.

"It certainly provides a lot of confidence in us, and in our decision, when we have that kind of intel," Keim said.

Kingsbury was all-in on Kyler Murray a year ago, in large part because he'd known the quarterback since he was 15 years old. Jones slid in the draft from a second-round projection, but it's clear the Cardinals are confident in his makeup.

"Coach knew me personally," Jones said. "He knows the type of man I am."

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