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Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury greet each other after a 2021 preseason game.
Kliff Kingsbury, Patrick Mahomes Finally Meet In NFL
Chiefs QB played for coach at Texas Tech
By Darren Urban Sep 08, 2022
Photographs By Arizona Cardinals/AP

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."

In 2017, the Cardinals knew Carson Palmer was coming to the end of his career. They were looking for a long-term replacement. And they were optimistic Mahomes – whom then-coach Bruce Arians personally worked out -- would be there at No. 13.

But then the Chiefs traded with the Bills jumping from No. 27 all the way up to 10. (The Texans traded up from 25 to 12 to get Watson).

"As that draft was falling I was like 'He's ours,' " Arians recounted on the "Pardon My Take" podcast. "It's either him or Deshaun (Watson). But Pat, he was right there — Kansas City doesn't need a quarterback. They take him, and I was like 'what?' "

Had Mahomes come to the Cardinals, they wouldn't have Murray. Kingsbury likely wouldn't be the coach, either.

Instead, they face each other Sunday.

"For Kliff, it'd be like me playing Coach (Lincoln) Riley," Murray said. "They probably have this on their mind."

The two have long competed. At Tech, there were daily battles to throw long passes into a garbage can, and Kingsbury – the former QB – took on Mahomes and the rest of the quarterback room.

"Kliff trusted Pat with everything with the offense," said Cardinals wide receiver Antoine Wesley, who was a freshman at Texas Tech during Mahomes' final season there. "What he's doing now in the league, he's been doing that, in college, in practice and the games. Seeing Pat going crazy every year, it's fun seeing one of your former teammates."

Wesley guessed the two might have a dinner on the line based on Sunday's outcome. Mahomes and Kingsbury talked about the text chain they take part in with current Tech offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, but Mahomes said he doesn't think there will be a lot of conversation between the two this week.

"It'll be an awesome moment we will have forever," Mahomes said. "I just hope I get the win so I'll have the bragging rights for the rest of time."

Kingsbury, while still coaching college, once predicted Mahomes would eventually become the highest-paid player in the league. (He was right, for a time.)

But Kingsbury wasn't taking too much credit for spotting Mahomes and chasing him for football, even if few looked at Mahomes in that way once upon a time.

"It's pretty much sheer luck on that front that I've been able to cross paths with a lot of those guys," Kingsbury said. "Once I get with the player, I like to try and figure out what makes them tick and what they do best, and what they like to do and how they like to play and the plays they like, and I try to dive into that.

"But as far as recognizing talent, you can turn on those guys' highlights – whether it was Johnny Football, Pat, Kyler – and the layperson can tell they are one of the best players they've ever seen."

The Mahomes-Murray matchup is one of the best of the NFL's opening weekend. It just happens to pit coach against former student, in a story that started back in Lubbock nearly a decade ago.

"This is going to be a huge game, and throw Kyler in there too," Cook said. "Texas high school football. I feel like I can't lose with either one of them.

"I will text Kliff at some point to get after that kid. It's competition and that's what I love about both those guys – they are both great competitors."

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