What a difference a 9-2 start makes.
Coming into the 2021 season, Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury was considered by several analysts and writers to be squarely on the NFL coaching hot seat. Eleven weeks later, Kingsbury is a leading candidate for Coach of the Year.
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“In terms of where I put him for Coach of the Year now, [he’s] top two. It’s Kliff Kingsbury and Bill Belichick,” he said.
Kingsbury has guided the Cardinals to a league-leading 9-2 record in his third year with the team, guaranteeing him a winning season for the first time in his NFL career. His overall record also has climbed above .500 at 22-20-1.
Meanwhile, Belichick’s Patriots are 7-4 and back on top of the AFC East heading into a Week 12 showdown with the Tennessee Titans. Belichick will be coaching against one of his former players and another Coach of the Year candidate Sunday, November 28.
“I think the big other name is Mike Vrabel,” Schein said, noting the Titans’ AFC-best 8-3 record despite losing star running back Derrick Henry in Week 8.
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Oddsmakers Give Edge to Kingsbury
Oddsmakers agree with Schein’s top three but give a slight edge to Kingsbury. As of Thanksgiving Day, BetMGM has Kingsbury as the odds-on favorite to be named Coach of the Year at +375, with Belichick and Vrabel close behind at +450.
Tipico Sportsbook also ranks Kingsbury as the favorite at +400, followed by Belichick (+500) and Vrabel (+600).
Back on September 8, USA Today’s Touchdown Wire predicted Kingsbury would be the first NFL coach fired in 2021.
According to writer Doug Farrar, Kingsbury hadn’t “done nearly enough with what he’s been given” to warrant a fourth season 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.
To be fair, Farrar wasn’t alone in his opinion that the Cardinals coach needed to take a big step forward in his third season to keep his job. It was a common assertion among analysts and writers that Arizona needed to make the playoffs or at very least have a winning season for Kingsbury to return — despite already being under contract for a fourth year.
Kingsbury has answered his critics this season by putting together one of the NFL’s top offenses, ranking first in total points (310) through 11 games and scoring 30 or more points seven times this season.
James Conner: ‘We’re All-In’ on Kingsbury
The Cardinals also entered Week 12 ranked No. 1 in total touchdowns with 38. They’ve gotten 13 of those (12 rushing and one receiving) from running back James Conner.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt star left Pennsylvania after signing a one-year deal with Arizona in April. Conner, now in his fifth NFL season, has flourished in Kingsbury’s offense, rushing for 555 yards and adding 173 receiving yards on 18 catches.
Conner has been the featured back in Arizona’s offense since the Cardinals’ 31-17 road win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9. He had been splitting time with starter Chase Edmonds, who was injured on his first carry of the November 7 game and later placed on injured reserve.
Conner chatted with NFL Network host Rich Eisen about his first season in Arizona and playing for Kingsbury.
“Every day he brings his juice and just tries to get the most out of us,” Conner said on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Monday, November 22. “He puts so much effort into the game. Coach is just a passionate dude. We love playing for him. He’s just all-in on us, and we’re all-in on him.”
As for the Coach of the Year award, Conner said Kingsbury is “100% deserving of it.”
“I know his work ethic. I know he comes to work every day and how hard he works,” he said. “He’s deserving of it, and I think he’s the one for it.”