Sources: Kliff Kingsbury to get head coaching interviews with Jets, Cardinals

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

Former Texas Tech head coach and current USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is officially on the NFL coaching search grid, landing at least two interviews for a top job, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Team sources familiar with the head coaching searches of the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets told Yahoo Sports both franchises are expected to conduct formal interviews with Kingsbury for their openings.

Considered to be one of the most creative offensive minds in college football, Kingsbury’s NFL candidacy comes on the heels of him rebuffing an opportunity to coach the University of Houston in recent days. Now the NFL appears to be in play, with multiple league executives telling Yahoo Sports that Kingsbury is in the league’s candidate pool for some head jobs.

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He’s also considered a prime commodity for top-level offensive coordinator positions, although it’s unclear he’d be receptive to those openings. While both the Cardinals and Jets are expecting to schedule head coaching interviews with Kingsbury, executives from two other teams with vacancies told Yahoo Sports the former Texas Tech coach is on their candidate lists but not currently targeted for an interview.

After getting fired as head coach at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury landed at USC as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. (AP)
After getting fired as head coach at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury landed at USC as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. (AP)

All of this comes after Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech in late November and then added to USC’s staff in early December. If anything, his inclusion in NFL search pools underscores the league’s pursuit of younger, progressive offensive coaches who fit the mold of the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay and the Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy.

Like the careers of McVay and Nagy, Kingsbury has drawn ample respect for producing prolific offenses in challenging circumstances. That also explains why NFL teams are considering him despite amassing a less-than-flattering 35-40 record in six seasons at Texas Tech. Typically, those aren’t results that land people in NFL head coaching searches. But Kingsbury also has some key exclamation points on his résumé that matter in today’s NFL.

Chief among them: In three seasons as a coordinator at the University of Houston and Texas A&M and six seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury guided five offenses that finished in the top five in scoring in the nation. Inside that span, he was credited with identifying both Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield as quarterback prospects, while also helping to develop Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel and Davis Webb into NFL players. Perhaps more important, the offenses Kingsbury developed were often layered and molded to the skills of his players, creating success with players who had varied strengths and weaknesses.

Having touched the careers of three high level NFL starters in 2018 — Mahomes, Mayfield and Keenum — was already enough to get the attention of league evaluators. But Kingsbury also has the added bonus of being 39 years old, which creates an opportunity to pair an inventive offensive mind with a young NFL quarterback (like a Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, for example) for a 10-15 year run. That’s a template many teams are looking for, envisioning a dynamic along the lines of Sean Payton and Drew Brees, McVay and Jared Goff, Andy Reid and Mahomes or Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky. Not surprisingly, three of those head coaches — Payton, Reid and McVay — have all been admirers of some of Kingsbury’s offensive work in recent years. So much so that Kingsbury likely could have been added to any of those staffs in some capacity if he had expressed an interest.

For now, it appears unlikely Kingsbury will leave his USC coordinator position for anything less than an NFL head coaching opportunity, given that he passed on a University of Houston job that should have been attractive. Whether he’ll be offered a head coaching job by an NFL team is another matter. It’s possible the Jets and Cardinals view a Kingsbury interview more as an exploratory opportunity, preferring to leave no stone unturned and taking a chance that Kingsbury might blow them away in the process. In some ways, that’s what McVay and Nagy represented in the 2017 and 2018 search cycles, which ended with both dominating their interviews and landing jobs that weren’t obvious matches when the process started.

Time will tell if Kingsbury can create that same NFL opportunity, but there’s no more questioning whether he’s on the league’s head coaching radar.

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