After six years as the head coach at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury was fired at the end of a 5-7 season. But finding another job isn’t going to take him long.
It seems every team — both in the college and NFL ranks — is lining up to hire the 39-year-old coach. Presumably, many want Kingsbury as an offensive coordinator.
He’s a former Texas Tech quarterback under Mike Leach who had a brief NFL career before rising through the coaching ranks as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M. At the latter, he helped Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy.
At Texas Tech, Kingsbury again coached up a high-octane offense — led for a while by Patrick Mahomes — but the defense could never keep up.
Now that he’s no longer a head coach, just about every football team is licking their chops at the idea of Kingsbury running its offense.
Why is Kingsbury in demand?
Points. Sweet, delicious points.
The Texas Tech offense averaged 37.8 points in his 75 games as head coach. He helped Manziel turn Texas A&M into an offensive juggernaut, and then did the same at Texas Tech with Mahomes, Davis Webb, and Nic Shimonek.
No era was more prolific than Mahomes’ two years at the helm. Texas Tech averaged 45.1 points per game in 2015 and 43.7 points in 2016.
In 2018, true freshman Alan Bowman took over at quarterback for Texas Tech early in the season after junior McLane Carter suffered an ankle injury. Then Bowman suffered a collapsed lung and was replaced by sophomore Jeff Duffey. Despite those injuries, Texas Tech is still 26th in the offensive S&P+ ratings.
The problem in Lubbock is — and always has been — defense.
Texas Tech is 91st in the defensive S&P+ ratings this season and never finished higher than 83rd during Kingsbury’s tenure. The team consistently scored more than 30 points in losses.
Most famously, there was the time Mahomes had 819 combined passing and rushing yards, but Texas Tech still lost to a Baker Mayfield-led Oklahoma team, 66-59, in October 2016.
The consistent defensive letdowns kept Texas Tech stuck in neutral and eventually led to Kingsbury’s firing. But what if he was in charge of nothing but offense?
Like Lane Kiffin’s three-year stint at Alabama (oh god, what if Alabama hires Kingsbury?), similarly making Kingsbury an offensive coordinator while someone else is in charge of keeping teams off the scoreboard just makes too much sense.
Kingsbury has developed several NFL quarterbacks
Before landing the head coaching job at Texas Tech, Kingsbury was a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2012, recognizing the top assistant coach in the nation. That honor came because Kingsbury helped redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy in a Texas A&M offense that averaged 44.5 points per game.
Before he joined Texas A&M, Kingsbury spent four seasons as an assistant at Houston. There, he helped develop Case Keenum and was co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Houston averaged 49.3 points in 2011.
Both Mahomes and Manziel ended up being first-round picks in the NFL, and Keenum has been a starter for the Rams, Vikings, and Broncos, despite going undrafted.
That’s an impressive list of protégés for someone who’s only a decade into his coaching career.
It’s not perfect, though. When he arrived at Texas Tech in 2013, he had a pair of freshman quarterbacks: Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield. Both transferred, and Mayfield went on to become a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma and No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
“When I got hurt, there was no communication between me and my coach,” Mayfield told ESPN. “When I got healthy, I didn’t know why I wasn’t playing right away. At that time, we were losing a couple games in a row. I was still clueless as to why I wasn’t playing. That was really frustrating for me because I started the first five games and we won. So, I just didn’t really know exactly what he was thinking or what the situation was.”
Webb’s transfer happened after Mahomes supplanted him as the starter. Webb was eventually drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Giants, but waived a year later. He’s now a member of the Jets.
College and NFL teams want Kingsbury
Kingsbury was fired on Nov. 24. Three days later, he already reportedly had two “firm offers” to join an NFL coaching staff:
The phone of former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has been ringing off the hook from NFL teams, including two that have given him firm offers. College offense has infiltrated the NFL and Kingsbury’s superb knowledge of it is in high demand.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) November 27, 2018
The NFL looks like a logical landing spot for Kingsbury, but maybe not if a high-profile college job catches his eye first:
An extremely reliable source just told me that former head coach of Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury is on USC’s campus
— Lisa Horne (@LisaHorne) November 27, 2018
There are a few NFL teams — like the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams — that don’t need offensive help. But after that, the list of teams in the pro or college ranks that wouldn’t love to hire Kingsbury as offensive coordinator is probably short.
Alabama doesn’t need a new OC just yet, but if it does (it has the last three seasons), Kingsbury would be a pretty smart and terrifying candidate for Nick Saban to call.
It’s time to embrace the air raid
Mahomes put up huge numbers in Kingsbury’s offense, but there was reason to be pessimistic about his ability to continue to produce in the NFL.
At the time, there wasn’t a successful single NFL quarterback who was a product of a college air raid offense. Jared Goff had just finished a horrible rookie season and the closest thing to a success story was Nick Foles.
Shotgun is an increasingly large part of an NFL team’s playbook, and spread concepts are leaking up from the college ranks to the professional ones.
One of the criticisms of the air raid offense is that it has historically been, in the words of SB Nation’s Jason Kirk, “an underdog offense, for teams that can’t just overpower or out-speed opponents.” But Kingsbury’s Texas Tech always had a bit more than that.
“Our offense is a lot more complex than the old air raid, because Coach Kingsbury, coming from the NFL, has made it more complex,” Mahomes told Bleacher Report in 2017. “And that’s why it’s so successful.”
Washington State head coach Mike Leach explained that his air raid offense aims to “throw it short to people who can score.” But Mahomes attempted 91 deep passes in his final season at Texas Tech, fifth-most in the nation. That makes Kingsbury’s offense dangerous at any level of football.
Offense is at an all-time high in the NFL and teams that aren’t thinking progressively are running the risk of getting left behind. Whatever team is able to win the Kingsbury sweepstakes — whether it’s one in the NFL or college ranks — will be taking a proactive step to get ahead of football’s offensive revolution.