Kliff Kingsbury was hired by the Cardinals in January of 2019 as he was taking over a team that looked very dysfunctional. For context, the Cardinals went 3-13 in 2018 with Steve Wilks being the Cardinals head coach. Steve Wilks was considered to be one of the worst head coaches in the NFL at that time. However, it was only Steve Wilks’ first season as an NFL head coach. The starting quarterback for the Cardinals in 2018 was Josh Rosen, who struggled. The Cardinals then held the 1st pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Cardinals had two choices, which were either drafting Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray or drafting Ohio St. defensive end Nick Bosa. Kyler Murray ended up being the selection for the Cardinals, which was a bold decision to make at the time. That was the beginning of the team building that Kliff Kingsbury was a part of.
Kliff Kingsbury was known as an offensive guru when he entered the NFL coaching market. However, there were concerns about the lack of experience that Kliff Kingsbury had at the NFL level. However, Kliff Kingsbury’s knowledge of offenses were supposedly going to blow off NFL defenses. Kliff Kingsbury has a lot of faults, but what he is good at is cooking up schemes on offense. The offense that Kliff Kingsbury created puts players in position to make plays happen. The job that Kliff Kingsbury does in getting players to get open in space is nothing short of incredible. There is a good reason why players such as Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds have been much improved in recent seasons. The schemes are getting those guys open, which is making them better than what they actually are.
Making the bold call to draft Kyler Murray instead of keeping Josh Rosen took guts. That would not have happened had Kliff Kingsbury not wanted to run a specific scheme. Josh Rosen was drafted with the 10th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, so it was only one season removed from that. At that time, it was not common for NFL teams to move on from young quarterbacks that quickly. Had Kliff Kingsbury run a conventional offense, the Cardinals probably would have kept Josh Rosen and attempted to build around him. That would have been disastrous, using future knowledge. Kyler Murray has turned out to be at least a solid NFL quarterback. That is a good testament to Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive scheme. The fact that Kyler Murray has been improving is a good sign that Kliff Kingsbury knows how to develop quarterbacks, which is a must in today’s NFL.
The Cardinals have been steadily improving under Kliff Kingsbury. In 2019, the Cardinals went from 3-13 to 5-10-1, which was a reasonable improvement. The Cardinals then got DeAndre Hopkins via trade and he performed on a higher level than usual. In 2020, the Cardinals improved to 8-8. The Cardinals would have made the NFL Playoffs had Kyler Murray not gotten injured late in the season. Going from 3-13 to being in the conversation for the NFL Playoffs in two years is pretty good. It shows the commitment and the work ethic in Kliff Kingsbury to improve. Players are getting better with Kliff Kingsbury and the results are trending upwards. There are certainly worse coaches out there, so Kliff Kingsbury has done the best job that he could have thus far.
Kliff Kingsbury has done a good job of developing players on the Cardinals offense. However, that is about the only productive thing that he has done. The Cardinals’ defense has not been performing at a high level under the Kliff Kingsbury era. In 2019, the Cardinals finished 28th in total defense. In 2020, the Cardinals improved to 12th in total defense. That is problematic since a defense filled with Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Haason Reddick, Isaiah Simmons, Patrick Peterson, and Budda Baker should consistently be at least a top 10 defense. It seems as if Kliff Kingsbury needs to find a better defensive coordinator than Vance Joseph. If not, the defense will underachieve again. Defense wins championships and without the defense performing well, the Cardinals would not be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The Cardinals might just be a decent team if they keep their defensive coordinator as is right now.
Kliff Kingsbury’s game management leaves a lot to be desired. Situational football matters a lot, especially in the NFL compared to college football. This is the main reason why college coaches cannot fully transition to the NFL successfully. As well as Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive game plans are, it can be faulty at times. The playbook can be too simplistic at times, which makes life easier for opposing defenses when preparing to play the Cardinals offense. The offensive game plan is too reliant on players just being able to make plays. The offensive system also relies too much on Kyler Murray just running when the going gets tough. That will not last. With this scheme, Kyler Murray will not last in the NFL in terms of playing at a high level. The game management just needs to improve overall for Kliff Kingsbury.
They run a lot of shotgun plays, which really limit what an offense can do. Being in shotgun has its benefits, but exclusively running shotgun plays is not good in the long term. Kyler Murray is a short quarterback, but being short is not a good excuse either. Russell Wilson and Drew Brees are short, yet they play under center often enough. Being under center can help running lanes open up for running backs, which takes the pressure off of the quarterback. Also, throwing under center will make the offense less simplistic, which can only be good for the Cardinals. If the Cardinals stop relying on basic plays and gimmicks on offense, then they would really be good. Kliff Kingsbury has to adjust to that mentality. If not, then his offensive scheme will slowly erode over time.
Overall, Kliff Kingsbury has been decent for the Cardinals. However, he lacks certain skills that are extremely important in the long term. Being able to adjust to opposing defenses is extremely important. Diversifying the offense would also help. Normally, it takes three years to fully find out if a head coach is good or not and Kliff Kingsbury has to get better. The job that Kliff Kingsbury has done is not bad, but it could be trending towards mediocrity in the long term. That would not build a culture of winning football.
The Cardinals have also added talent to their roster now such as signing wide receiver A.J. Green and trading for center Rodney Hudson. The Cardinals should be hitting their ceiling next season with the talent that they have, which is being a playoff team that will be tough to deal with on a weekly basis. The defense should also be improving for the Cardinals. The Cardinals should be finally making that leap to being a playoff team. That should be the expectation for the Cardinals. To put it simply, Kliff Kingsbury should be on the hot seat. If Kliff Kingsbury is not coaching on a playoff team this season, then he should be fired. The Cardinals have too much talent and a good enough quarterback on the rise to make the NFL Playoffs. That is why Kliff Kingsbury should be on the hot seat for the Cardinals.