When asked about his coaching staff during his end-of-season conference call on Monday, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick went the old “doing what’s best for the team” route. What that will look, especially like in regards to the offense, remains to be seen.
Change, however, might be inevitable.
The Patriots, after all, struggled to put a competitive product on the field for much of the 2022 season — the first while led by Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in place of departed long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels. Belichick changing the setup on that side of the ball, and bringing in an experienced coach to work with quarterback Mac Jones, could therefore very well be in the cards.
If so, there appear to be several candidates. The most popular name is former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, but there are others as well who might be worth pursuing. Among that group is recently fired Kliff Kingsbury.
Before a four-year stint as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, Kingsbury was one of college football’s most intriguing offensive play-callers. That alone should be enough to put him on the Patriots’ radar, but there are additional arguments for pursuing the 43-year-old — just like there are against it.
Why the Patriots should pursue Kingsbury
Experience as a player caller: Before a 28-38-1 stint with the Cardinals, Kingsbury made a name for himself at the college level. He started as quality control coach at Houston in 2008, before moving to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach two years later. Another couple of seasons after that, he became OC at Texas A&M and helped Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy.
In 2013, Kingsbury took his talents to Texas Tech where he oversaw Patrick Mahomes’ development from three-star recruit to first-round draft pick. Two years after Mahomes joined the NFL, his former head coach did the same — despite overseeing three straight losing seasons and the Red Raiders having parted ways with him.
While his head coaching résumé at both the college and the pro levels might not be impressive, Kingsbury’s ability to develop quarterbacks and call offense might make him a candidate to join the Patriots.
Experience with the organization: Before turning to coaching, Kingsbury was one of the most productive quarterbacks in Texas Tech history. While that alone did not make him into a top-tier draft prospect in 2003, he eventually found his way to the Patriots as a sixth-round selection.
While his stint with the club lasted only 16 months and saw no in-game appearances — he was on injured reserve throughout his rookie year — Kingsbury does have some experience in the system and working with Bill Belichick. New England’s head coach, meanwhile, spoke highly of his former player prior to this season’s Patriots-Cardinals game.
“Kliff’s been always great to work with,” he said.
Philosophical links: As opposed to the Patriots, who are running their variation of a concept-based Erhardt-Perkins scheme, Kingsbury’s background as an offensive coach lies in the Air Raid. That means plenty of empty formations, shotgun, and quick concepts — a quarterback-friendly system well-suited to attack college defenses.
The NFL is a different animal, but Kingsbury did show an ability to adapt by incorporating more under-center and play-action looks.
“Sees the game through the quarterback’s eyes,” said Belichick back in December.
“He has a good offensive system. Saw that in college. Had a lot of explosive plays and players at Tech. They’re explosive at Arizona. Have been since he’s been there. Aggressive on fourth down, aggressive in the kicking game, aggressive on defense. I mean their whole style is pretty aggressive. But offensively, they run it, they throw it, get the ball outside, get the ball down the field.”
Beyond all that, Kingsbury placed an emphasis on speed — something New England recently did as well, investing in players such as Tyquan Thornton and Pierre Strong Jr. in the draft. That philosophical link would be a natural connection between the two parties despite a different schematic background.
Why the Patriots should not pursue Kingsbury
His desire to be a head coach: If the Patriots opt to replace Matt Patricia and Joe Judge atop the offensive hierarchy, it would be another major change for Mac Jones. After working with three coordinators in fours years at Alabama, he would be three-for-three in play-callers/de facto coordinators in his time in the NFL.
That alone might not be a problem; the offense as it was in 2022 was a liability. However, the longer-term outlook might be: being a coordinator does not appear to be the height of Kingsbury’s ambition, and if he does a good job with Jones in 2023 he might get another opportunity to become a head coach elsewhere.
A one-and-done scenario could happen with most coaches brought in from the outside, but Kingsbury’s career so far makes him a more realistic candidate to jump ship sooner rather than later.
Schematic differences: As noted above, Kingsbury comes from an Air Raid background that differs from what the Patriots are running. Bringing him aboard would therefore require some adaptation either from New England — which has run the same basic system throughout Bill Belichick’s 23-year tenure as head coach — or from Kingsbury himself.
Could it happen and still be successful? It’s possible, but the question is whether or not Kingsbury’s DNA as a coordinator is too far away from what the Patriots are doing.
And if they do bring him in to serve as coordinator and mix in his own version, do they trust Mac Jones to run it effectively?
Kingsbury’s short-term ambitions: Kingsbury quickly moving into a new job after signing a lucrative six-year extension with the Cardinals just one year ago might not be in the cards. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, it would not be a surprise to see him take some time off from coaching.
“I’m not sure Kliff Kingsbury wants to jump right back into this,” Rapoport said on NFL Network on Monday. “He has made a lot of money. He has made a lot of money. In college, in professional football, in other places, he is rich. And considering the year he’s had, I am not so sure that Kliff Kingsbury is going to be dying to get to a sideline near us.”
All things considered, though, Kingsbury is an interesting option. And when it comes to pursuing him, the pros do appear to outweigh the cons.