INDIANAPOLIS — Newly minted Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury didn't think his opportunity in the NFL would arrive this quickly, but working with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum made it clear he wanted to work at the next level.
"It’s funny how the world works," Kingsbury said during the opening of the NFL Scouting Combine. "But the last couple of years, having some of those quarterbacks transition to the NFL and watching their success, conceptually seeing some of the things going on in the NFL, I felt like this is where I wanted to end up. I just didn’t know when.”
The breakout MVP season of Mahomes certainly put Kingsbury on the NFL's radar. Kingsbury knows his protege's early accomplishments played some role in earning his opportunity after posting a 35-40 record in six seasons at Texas Tech.
Kingsbury coached a trio of talented quarterbacks in college. Mahomes became a star under Kingsbury at Texas Tech. Mayfield started his college career with the Red Raiders before transferring to Oklahoma. Kingsbury served as offensive coordinator with Houston when Keenum lit up scoreboards for the Cougars.
His star pupil, Mahomes, likely deserves some of the credit for helping him make the leap to the NFL.
“I’m not sure how that went into the thought process of the hiring, but I think it didn’t hurt watching what Pat’s done at an early age and playing in a spread system, being in shotgun," Kingsbury said. "I think those guys – him, Baker, Case Keenum – their success has shown that there’s some concepts that come up from the college ranks and those guys can play early and play at a very high level.”
With spread offense and Air Raid concepts becoming more prevalent in the NFL, teams increasingly find themselves turning to young offensive minds such as Kingsbury. The coach admits that getting the right quarterback remains more important than the scheme, but believes the right system can help young quarterbacks thrive.
“You look at a guy like Patrick and what he did in Kansas City," Kingsbury said. "Unique ability, unique talent. And there’s some really good offensive minds now in the NFL that are doing some things that help those young quarterbacks and allow them to play at a high level quicker in their careers.”
Kingsbury now gets the opportunity to put that argument to the test. The Cardinals selected Josh Rosen with the No. 10 selection in last year's draft, and Kingsbury says he's committed to the young passer
"He’s very cerebral and I just like the way he fought at the end of the year through some adverse conditions," Kingsbury said. "He never turned it down, he continued to get up and he continued to fight and compete his tail off until the end.”
With several of his former quarterbacks from college ascending in the NFL, Kingsbury believes his Air Raid philosophy can work in the league.
“I’ve always stood by that," Kingsbury said. "I felt like football is football and it’s about players more than anything. So if you have the right guys pulling the trigger, the right guys running the routes and the right guy handing it to you, you’re going to look pretty good. I think that’s what people are seeing.”