Cardinals Coach Kliff Kingsbury Unfazed by Pressure to Make Playoffs

Kliff Kingsbury - Arizona Cardinals

Getty Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury looks at his play card during Arizona's 19-16 preseason victory over the Dallas Cowboys at State Farm Stadium on August 13, 2021, in Glendale, Arizona.

If Kliff Kingsbury is on the NFL coaching hot seat this season, both the Arizona Cardinals coach and general manager Steve Keim have impressive poker faces.

Neither took the bait when asked about the pressure on Kingsbury to make the playoffs in his third season as coach of the Cardinals.

“I think going through being the head coach at your alma mater and getting fired is kind of walking through fire in this profession,” Kingsbury told reporters Wednesday, September 8. “So after going through that, not too much really fazes you.”

Two days later, when asked by Arizona Sports 98.7 FM host John Gambadoro what improvements Kingsbury needs to make in 2021 to return as coach next season, Keim sidestepped the question.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I look at the positives.”

Keim cited the Cardinals’ ascension from a three-win team in 2018, to five wins in Kingsbury’s first season and then eight wins a year ago as reasons to believe the team is headed in the right direction.

“Last year we feel like we had a playoff team, and we let it slip through our fingers,” he said.

The Cardinals made a handful of critical roster moves during the offseason, Keim said, noting the additions of defensive end J.J. Watt, center Rodney Hudson, receiver A.J. Green and kicker Matt Prater.

“I feel like in this past offseason we (got better) with the roster changes we made,” he said, “and I certainly feel like we’re going to have success this year.”

First Firing of 2021?

Kingsbury has been a popular pick among NFL writers as coaches on the hot seat this season, with Doug Farrar of USA Today’s Touchdown Wire predicting the Arizona coach will be the first to be fired in 2021.

According to Farrar, Kingsbury “hasn’t done enough with what he’s been given” to warrant a fourth seasons as Cardinals coach, unless his third season “looks a lot better than it does on paper.” He continued:

Kingsbury’s offense is stale in a “Chip Kelly in the NFL” sense, his defense lacks any credible cornerbacks, and the front office keeps drafting multi-position defensive players nobody seems to know how to use. Kingsbury’s record over his first two seasons? 13-18-1. He’ll need to get past .500 to forward his NFL stay, and it doesn’t look good in a brutally competitive NFC West.

USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz included Kingsbury on his list of five coaches entering 2021 already on the hot seat.

Middlehurst-Schwartz noted that “Arizona is no doubt in a better place than it was when Kingsbury took over in 2019,” but the “expected offensive revolution hasn’t taken hold in the desert, and the Cardinals are still tied for the second-longest active playoff drought in the NFL at five seasons.” He added:

Kyler Murray’s late-season shoulder injury derailed a 6-3 start last year, but Kingsbury was not merely a victim of circumstance. As the second-year coach became inflexible in his horizontally focused scheme, the offense stagnated. Maybe a fully healthy Murray will allow Kingsbury to unlock the deep passing game that disappeared last year. But with the rest of the NFC West looking worthy of the postseason, Kingsbury and the Cardinals won’t have much room for error.

Will Kingsbury’s Cardinals Continue to Climb?

As he noted when meeting with reporters Wednesday, September 8, Kingsbury is no stranger to being fired.

Texas Tech let him go in 2018 after posting a 35-40 record in six seasons as coach of the Red Raiders. Texas Tech had losing seasons in four of those years, including a 5-7 performance in his final season with the team.

Kingsbury fared better as a player at Texas Tech from 1999-2002, throwing for more than 12,000 yards and 95 touchdowns during his career. As a senior in 2002, he won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top quarterback. The Red Raiders went 29-21 during his four seasons at quarterback.

Kingsbury is under contract through the 2022 season after signing a four-year deal with the Cardinals in January 2019, but there’s no guarantee the team will bring him back, especially if Arizona underachieves this season. The deal also includes a team option for a fifth year.

Despite the dire predictions, Keim is optimistic Arizona will continue its climb in Kingbury’s third season, though he stopped short of saying the Cardinals will make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Arizona went 13-3 that season and won a home playoff game against the Green Bay Packers before losing to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship.

“This year, just the feel of the team, the pulse in the locker room, the roster, the way it’s constructed, I feel like we have a chance to be a really good football team,” Keim said. “I feel excited about this team, probably as good as I’ve felt about a team since 2015.”


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