Allen Park — To say that Arizona rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury is also from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree in New England is a bit of a stretch, but there were definitely some seeds planted in him by the veteran coach.
After putting up eye-popping numbers at Texas Tech, Kingsbury was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round in 2003 to develop under Tom Brady.
A season-ending injury during his rookie year effectively relegated him to the coaching staff, working as an offensive assistant under Charlie Weis.
It wasn't exactly a dream fulfilled for the Cardinals coach, who will make his NFL head coaching debut Sunday against the Lions.
“After those tasks, I was 100%, I never wanted to do that again,” Kingsbury said Wednesday. “I won’t get into detail, but it was some long hours.”
Lions coach Matt Patricia joined New England’s staff from Syracuse the following season, while Kingsbury bounced around in pro football obscurity for another four years.
Kingsbury never played a down in New England, but had five stints on NFL rosters — sprinkled in with short NFL Europe and Canadian Football League detours before becoming a coach in 2008 — and played in one 2005 game for the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, Patricia put in those long hours under Belichick, overlapping with Kingsbury before the quarterback moved on with his career.
“We had some long nights together,” Kingsbury said, before deadpanning that he’s not a big fan of the Lions coach. “It’s awesome to see a guy — we were at the bottom rung there in New England together and to watch how he’s worked his way up. One of the more brilliant defensive minds in football. He’s a very intellectual guy overall, even though he tries to play that off, and a good person. He’s always treated me amazingly well through the years.”
Patricia is not the only member of the Lions coaching staff who has history with Kingsbury.
Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart, who will be tasked largely with stopping rookie quarterback Kyler Murray’s passing game Sunday, was defensive coordinator at the University of Houston in 2011. There, Kingsbury coached Case Keenum and the Houston quarterbacks and served as co-offensive coordinator.
“I got an idea what was generated or came from the Air Raid offense, so we know that,” Stewart said Monday. “But as far as where the people are going to be aligned, that’s going to be a work in progress."
The Cougars went 13-1 under Kevin Sumlin before the head coach took Kingsbury with him to Texas A&M, where the pair coached the Aggies to an 11-2 season, as Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.
After one year, Kingsbury was off to Lubbock for his first head coaching gig with Texas Tech, where he went to three bowl games in six seasons, finishing 35-40. His third straight losing season last year resulted in his firing.
Still, gaudy passing numbers in his Air Raid attack put up by his quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes among them — were enough to attract attention, and Kingsbury accepted the offensive coordinator position at USC in December.
Then, the NFL came calling, with Arizona naming Kingsbury its head coach in January.
Kingsbury said the air of mystery around his offense is overblown, as his decade of calling plays is out there for everyone to see.
Stewart said he does know plays will come fast and furious in Arizona’s 100-degree heat.
“Tempo is going to be coming fast,” Stewart said. “So the defense has to make sure we’re lined up when they’re underneath the center. When the ball snaps, we’re got to be where we’re supposed to be and aligned where we’re supposed to be aligned, and be ready to go.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.