Kliff Kingsbury’s brief tenure as offensive coordinator at USC looks to be coming to a quick end. Peter Schrager of the NFL Network and Fox Sports is reporting that he is finalizing a deal to be the next Arizona head coach, after earlier reports that he was interviewing with both the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.
So in the span of about a month, Kingsbury has gone from being fired in Lubbock, Texas after a 35-40 career record as head coach, to being a NFL head coach (after appearing to trade up to an offensive coordinator position at a power program). It’s quite the meteoric rise for Kingsbury, who still is only 39 years old.
Everyone’s looking for the next Sean McVay, and Kingsbury has the young Hollywood star looks and offensive background to make them buy in. He’s got greatness by association this year, too, after Patrick Mahomes set the league on fire in Kansas City.
If you want to look for comparisons for this kind of move, they are hard to find. Plenty of college football coaches have made the move to the NFL, though most of them have done so after periods of high-level success in college. Doug Marrone, leaving Syracuse for Buffalo after four years where the pinnacle was a Pinstripe Bowl win, is one example. Steve Mariucci went to California for one year and went 6-6, then took over the San Francisco dynasty. Bill O’Brien went 15-9 in two years at Penn State before heading to Houston. Dennis Green had three seasons at Stanford before moving to Minnesota, but was starting to emerge and had a much better season than any Kingsbury had by the end of his tenure. Sam Wyche spent one 3-8 season at Indiana, but had been a successful offensive coordinator with the 49ers before that, when he was hired by Cincinnati. And perhaps the most apt comparison, Mike Riley being hired after going 8-14 at Oregon State, to try to turn around the Chargers and Ryan Leaf in 1999.
I say most apt, because this hire is all about finding that offensive juju after a disastrous season, and salvaging Josh Rosen. You might recall that Ryan Leaf was disastrous as a rookie, and twenty years ago, the Chargers turned to the college offensive mind to try to correct that, without success.
Josh Rosen is young (he has yet to turn 22) and showed flashes but there’s no sugarcoating it–2018 was not pretty in Arizona. Here’s a list of the worst rookie seasons by first round picks at QB since 1970 (using league-adjusted ANYA). Josh Rosen comes in at 5th-worst rating. He had only one start where he even averaged 7 yards per pass attempt.
Plenty of guys on that list turned it around. Nearly half of them would turn out to achieve varying levels of success in the league. But with the exception of those guys who battled injuries, Year Two tended to reveal who would emerge and who would flounder. So make no mistake, this hire is all about tapping into the offensive boom and hoping that Josh Rosen can be a part of it, and quickly.