The lead up to the Arizona Cardinals Week 12 game against the New England Patriots, the first head-to-head matchup between the two franchises since September of 2016, presents several key story lines. None may be more publicized this week than the sideline square off between the two head coaches: Kliff Kingsbury of the Cardinals and Bill Belichick of the Patriots.
The hype is warranted, considering the student-master dynamic the two share. Of course, it has been documented that the quarterback Kingsbury was a sixth-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2003 out of Texas Tech, the fourth year of Belichick's head coaching tenure with the organization.
The following stories will be part of a series where AllCardinals examines different elements of the tandem. Here is Part I: A Coach's Journey
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Upon being drafted No. 201 overall, Kingsbury's football life changed forever.
While the on-field development never led Kingsbury to become a suitable backup for franchise quarterback Tom Brady, a stint on reserve/injured with an arm issue in his rookie season turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While it kick-started the beginning stages of the end of his brief professional career, Kingsbury's time aiding the Patriots' coaching staff led him on a path that has more fruitful.
He never intended it to be this way, though.
"I guess what changed my mind is the NFL career didn't go as swimmingly as I had hoped," Kingsbury said Monday.
Yet, Belichick did not have his rookie quarterback delving into the playbook to aid in play-calling or scheming. In fact, the tasks he was assigned were much more mundane.
"That wasn't really his role then," Belichick said during a conference call with Arizona reporters Monday. "Projects and things like that. He was trying to learn. Trying to learn the game, learn the NFL, learn pro football. He wasn't a play-caller then."
Despite that reality, Kingsbury dedicated his time to the job and made sure to scrutinize Belichick's teachings and tendencies. So, what did he gain most form the experience?
"More than anything, the importance of situational football," Kingsbury said. "It was week in, week out we'd have these walk-throughs and he'd be having these situations occur that you'd never think would happen in a million years. And sure enough, three weeks later it would pop up. And you were always prepared on those Patriot teams for any situation that could arise in a game and you didn't panic. You executed at a high level because of that. And that was probably the No. 1 thing that I remember about being there."
Upon being waived by the Patriots in 2004, Kingsbury would move on to stints with the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills before moving on to play in NFL Europe and the CFL. His playing career ended in 2007 and by August of 2008, Kingsbury found a role as a quality control assistant at the University of Houston. It was there that his coaching mind began to flourish.
Opportunity presented itself when Cougars offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen departed for the same position at Oklahoma State in 2009. Kingsbury had done enough during his brief time to earn the respect and trust of then-head coach Kevin Sumlin, who now reprises the role at Arizona, to be promoted as co-offensive coordinator with Jason Phillips.
It was in this position that Kingsbury's offensive creativity was born, a testament to the work in the film room he had done with the Patriots under Belichick. By 2011, Kingsbury was named the FootballScoop.com Offensive Coordinator of the Year.
"Kliff’s a smart guy," Belichick said. "Had a really good football background. Played a different style of offense than what we had here, but very willing to learn. Did a lot of extra things, learned our offense, studied film, studied opponent defenses, just learned a lot about football.
"He did some projects for us and things like that. He was very good at those and you could tell he’s smart and understood the game, understood concepts. He was not a guy you had to tell anything more than once, and he picked up a lot of things on his own. He was very good to have around on the team and work with."
Kingsbury soon moved on to become offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and later the head coach at his alma mater Texas Tech. Despite not having the greatest track record as a college head coach, the Cardinals seemingly valued the idea of a creative, young, offensive-minded coach.
Drafting quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 was Kingsbury's first real watermark on his franchise and how he wanted to build it. While the on-field results were not great, posting just five wins, Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year and has since validated Kingsbury's decision with his play this season. In fact, the Cardinals have already won more games than a year ago and sit at 6-4 entering Week 12 against the Patriots.
"Every game presents a new learning experience when you're only in Year 2 and trying to navigate this league and build this organization," Kingsbury said. "And so I definitely try to learn from each and every experience and try to get better for the next time it arises."
While the moment may be surreal for Kingsbury, he is approaching Sunday with a business-as-usual mentality. Still, there are tendencies of his style that are reminiscent of what he observed as a rookie in 2003.
"As a college player going into the NFL, if you end up in that spot you really do get a crash course in trying to be great in every X and O you could ever imagine," Kingsbury said. "To be a part of that deal and watch how (quarterback Tom) Brady prepared every day and watch how Bill coached all three phases was phenomenal. And I still use certain aspects of that with me today."
While Belichick is complimentary of Kingsbury to this day, he did not express worry about any potential advantages Kingsbury gleaned from 17 years ago.
"His work ethic, intelligence and overall understanding football are good, very good," he said. "But what we did then and what they do now are quite different. You still get back to fundamentals and things like that, but schematically it’s quite different."