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Pupil Meets Teacher: Kliff Kingsbury Honored To Face Bill Belichick

Cardinals coach appreciates impactful stint he spent as player in New England

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury (left) was a quarterback alongside Tom Brady (12) under Patriots coach Bill Belichick in 2003 and 2004.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury (left) was a quarterback alongside Tom Brady (12) under Patriots coach Bill Belichick in 2003 and 2004.

The national perceptions of Kliff Kingsbury and Bill Belichick were personified by their at-home draft setups in April.

Kingsbury, part of the wunderkind coaching fraternity at age 41, sat coolly in the living room of his Paradise Valley abode as the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him ushered in a breathtaking view of Camelback Mountain.

The 68-year-old Belichick, meanwhile, set up shop at a dated kitchen table in a modestly-sized dining room, with his dog, Nike, making periodic entrances.

While there is a clear dichotomy in their appearances, the head coaches of the Cardinals and Patriots have a longheld mutual respect that began nearly two decades ago, when Belichick selected Kingsbury in the 2003 draft.

"Kliff's a sharp guy," Belichick said Monday in advance of the Week 12 meeting between their teams. "Works hard. Likes football. He was always around and engaged and wanted to learn. He was really a pleasure to work with and a good person to have as part of the team."

Few quarterbacks taken in the sixth round of the draft are expected to amount to anything great, but expectations were high for Kingsbury. Three years prior, the Patriots spent nearly-identical draft capital on Tom Brady.

"They were talking about, 'Could lightning strike twice?'" Kingsbury said. "It did not, in fact, happen."

Kingsbury attempted two passes in a nomadic NFL career, and whether he realized it at the time or not, the most valuable experience of his playing days may have been the rookie season he spent on injured reserve in New England.

Kingsbury said he acted as a glorified intern during those months, fetching coffee and donuts, but he also stuck closely to offensive assistants like Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Brian Daboll – all of whom would find considerable coaching success in subsequent years.

"I learned probably more football in that short time than maybe any other stop along the way," Kingsbury said.

He also formed a relationship with Belichick, who is not quite the curmudgeon that is regularly on display during press conferences.

"He's a guy that, when you get to know the personality of Bill and not coach Belichick, if you will, he's funny, he's very sharp," Kingsbury said. "He wants to help people develop as coaches and players, and he wants people to further develop in their careers post-football. You definitely see that come across when you get him out of the office and get to know him a little bit."

Kingsbury's NFL dream died for good after an ill-fated stint with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2007. Despite never wanting to coach during his playing days, Kingsbury shifted gears and joined the college ranks in 2008 as a quality control assistant at the University of Houston.

Kingsbury sought out the coaching advice of Belichick, but not without come trepidation.

"He's obviously a legend," Kingsbury said. "There's definitely an intimidation factor there, even when you're done playing, just because of all he's accomplished and what he's about. But he's been amazing to me over the years. Even when I got fired there at Texas Tech, he reached out. And he allowed me to come up there when I was at Texas Tech and sit in on meetings, go to practices. I can't thank him enough for all he's done for me."

Kingsbury never imagined becoming a coach of his own NFL team and facing off against Belichick, like the Cardinals will do on Sunday.

Running back Chase Edmonds said he doubted that angle would be played up this week, and Kingsbury confirmed he has no interest in setting this up as a schematical battle of wits.

"If you start to analyze what he knows and what I know, we'd be in trouble," Kingsbury said. "He's forgotten more football than I'll ever even try to comprehend. He's probably the one person in the NFL that can coach every position at an elite level. And that's not an exaggeration. That's how much he knows about the game."

Belichick is not reticent to dole out the praise for his one-time pupil, either. The Cardinals have engineered one of the more impressive turnarounds in the NFL over the past two seasons, as Kingsbury has his team in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC.

"This is really our first exposure to him, but in watching him, he's done an outstanding job," Belichick said. "He has a good young team that continues to get better. They play very well. They're aggressive. They can move the ball and score points, play defense. That's a good football team. He's done a nice job."

While the respect may be mutual, it's crystal clear how much reverence Kingsbury feels for Belichick, whom he calls the "best coach of all-time" without batting an eyelash.

"Just to be on the field with him in this capacity will be a huge honor," Kingsbury said. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity."

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