The Arizona Cardinals have quite a few problems right now.
But their biggest problem is also one that’s probably not going away anytime soon.
Kliff Kingsbury is not a good head coach.
This isn’t a knee jerk emotional reaction to a third straight loss, a coaching clinic put on by Sean McVay and the Cardinals falling out of the NFC playoff picture.
This is a statement supported by strong factual evidence.
Kliff Kingsbury has never won meaningful football games. His failures at Texas Tech were excused because it’s hard to win in Lubbock, Texas in a conference with blue blood powerhouses in Texas and Oklahoma.
Meanwhile Matt Rhule won in Waco and Matt Campbell is doing just fine in Ames, Iowa.
Kingsbury standing in front of the Cardinals locker room after a rough month and extolling them to follow him to success is like a lottery winner standing in front of a group of people and imploring them to put their head down and work hard because it’s the only way to succeed financially.
He doesn’t know how to win and the team knows it.
There is simply no real world evidence that Kliff Kingsbury the head coach can transform culture, maximize talent (Hello, Patrick Mahomes!) or out coach his opponent.
He’s a nice guy who’s relatable to his team and capable of drawing up some interesting offensive plays. But those qualities don’t add up to a leader of men.
It’s not to say that Kingsbury hasn’t served an important purpose as head coach. He modernized the Cardinals offense from the stone ages of Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy. He allowed a unique personality in Kyler Murray to comfortably acclimate to an NFL locker room. And he’s done wonders for tapered leg pants on game day for all NFL coaches.
But the Cardinals can’t confuse this fun fling of a relationship with Kliff Kingsbury for marriage material.
It's almost certain that Kingsbury will be the head coach of the team for the start of the 2021 season. In fact, barring an even bigger meltdown down the stretch it’s, likely, objectively the right move for the franchise. Owner Michael Bidwill should view GM Steve Keim and Kingsbury as a package deal. After Keim’s recent improvement in personnel decisions and Kingsbury winning more games than this team did last year, they should sink or swim together on what happens next season.
If Kliff wants to survive beyond this season, there are some changes he needs to make. Here are some changes I’d like to see:
- The Cardinals lead the NFL in snaps in shotgun formation and snaps out of the no huddle. They’ve simplified defending their own offense by refusing to offer any variety or wrinkles. Jared Goff used play action under center and rolling out to force Cardinals defenders to make three split second decisions on any given Rams play. Kyler Murray takes the shotgun snap and there’s only one decision for defenders to make: is he running or throwing. Increasingly, teams are forcing Kyler to throw and the offense has stalled because of it. This offense is not putting nearly enough pressure on defenders in the first few seconds of a play. They are a pitcher with a good fastball and no secondary pitch. It has to change. Kyler has to be more comfortable taking snaps under center not because he needs to camp out there but because ot has to be an option.
- The Cardinals need to forget about Andy Isabella for the rest of the month. I watched sweet Andy do the Nutcracker Suite pre-snap for a handful of plays and could feel the eye rolling coming from the Rams defense. Because football is not a straight up foot race, no defense cares where Isabella is on the field, no one is up the night before worried about the damage he might cause and the Cardinals need to start treating him in December as the developmental player that he is. I’d rather Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk get the same targets and jet sweep opportunities that Isabella keeps getting for the Cardinals.
- Get the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. He’s good. Manufacture it. Create it. Force it. Just don’t forget about it.
Above all, Kliff needs to show some fire. You aren't on a first date, you're leading an NFL team. Players, some of the best players on the team, have been seen consistently this season pouting on the field. The more it goes unchecked, the more it festers. Kingsbury needs to be able to light into his team and demand more, even if the team is well aware of his coaching career shortcomings.
Did you see Brian Flores on Sunday against the Bengals? After Jakeem Grant was illegally destroyed on a punt return, Flores nearly led his team in an on field brawl against the Bengals. Would Kingsbury have budged? What do you think his team thinks?
This season is heading in the wrong direction. Kliff Kingbury’s head coaching career is headed in the wrong direction.
But there’s still time to change the team’s current trajectory. It’s going to take real leadership.
Unfortunately, that’s just not something the current Cardinals head coach has on his resume.