Kliff Kingsbury tried to get Patrick Mahomes to stay with him one more season at Texas Tech.
The NFL had told Mahomes he was a likely second-round pick if he came out for the 2017 draft, despite the video game statistics Mahomes put up in Kingsbury's Air Raid offense.
Those experts probably didn't know what they were saying, Kingsbury thought even then – "The guys I trusted in the league, the guys I knew, what they were telling me, I had a feeling that he was going to be just fine" – but when you have a talent such as Mahomes, you don't give up.
"It was like 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' because I think (his family) knew something," Kingsbury said with a smile. "I appreciate them giving me the opportunity, but it was a foregone conclusion. I did my best."
But the way Mahomes remembers it, Kingsbury didn't push for any particular outcome. The coach told his QB, whether he was going to head to the NFL or stay one more year at Tech, to "be all in."
So Mahomes went pro. He took a year to learn with the Kansas City Chiefs, and then had arguably the best start of a career of any quarterback in NFL history.
Now, Mahomes will open the 2022 season facing off against his college coach, when the Chiefs visit the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on Sunday.
The two are close. Kingsbury was a first-time head coach at Tech, hooking himself up with the baseball-player-playing-football Mahomes as they began the journeys to this point. Mahomes, who seems destined for Canton when his playing days are over, had only Kingsbury chasing him for football once upon a time.
"He was the one that believed in me," Mahomes said in his press conference Wednesday. "That's why I'm in this position."
Adam Cook knew Kliff Kingsbury, but in name and reputation only.
Cook had walked on at Texas Tech to play football – he was cut – and remained at the school, cheering the next year for Kingsbury, the team's new quarterback. Cook eventually became the head football coach at Whitehouse High School, where his starting safety was a sophomore named Patrick Mahomes.
Kingsbury wasn't recruiting that area. But at Texas A&M, where Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator, another assistant named B.J. Anderson dropped off some tape of Mahomes – now a junior quarterback for Cook.
"I thought he was really raw," Kingsbury said. "He'd run around the field and make plays. He was definitely the best player on the field in any game he played. He hadn't ever focused on football. He didn't go to camps growing up. That was the first I had seen of him."
At A&M, Kingsbury was able to coach Johnny Manziel. But the following spring, Kingsbury was named his alma mater's new head coach. His first decision was to go after Mahomes to be his QB.
"It happened so fast," Cook said. "He's all over Patrick, offers him, lets him know 'You're our guy' and the courtship for them first began."
Mahomes, whose father Pat was a longtime Major League baseball pitcher, also played baseball. And basketball. His parents didn't try and sway him to a sport (although Cook said Pat Mahomes could've played football himself, until he saw who might be tackling him on the college level.)
"We went after him hard because we knew we needed him," Kingsbury said. "Once I got around him, got to know him, worked him out at football camps, you could tell he just had some special ability and characteristics of a real leader. We knew it would be a big get for us."
While Mahomes said he didn't have any other major schools offering football scholarships, Kingsbury stopped recruiting all other quarterbacks once Mahomes committed. Tech was going to let Mahomes play baseball as well.
Meanwhile, Kingsbury, who hadn't seen Mahomes play in person, got to see him play that fall in football, and saw him in basketball.
"It's about relationships," Cook said, and Kingsbury wanted to begin building his with Mahomes.
One of the things that made the relationship grow – something Kyler Murray has talked about being a good part of his own relationship with Kingsbury – was Kingsbury's willingness to let the quarterback be who he is.
Kingsbury did teach Mahomes mechanics and fundamentals, but "he never restricted who I was," Mahomes said.
"It's someone who has taught me a ton not only about football but about life," Mahomes said. "He got me out of high school when I was a baseball player trying to play football and basically trying to be on my own.
"He helped me become who I am today. It'll be cool to be able to play against him."