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By Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine
When he first heard his longtime buddy had decided to enter the coaching profession in 2008, former Texas A&M linebacker Brian Gamble said that he had a intuition that former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury would rise rapidly through the coaching ranks.
Gamble and Kingsbury first became friends when they were roommates leading up to the 1998 Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game in Houston. Then Gamble says he truly began to respect Kingsbury when they played against each other in some memorably intense A&M-Tech games. And Kingsbury played an instrumental role in Gamble first meeting the woman who is now his wife.kingsbury1
“We’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve always known he has all the attributes of a big-time competitor,” says Gamble, the defensive coordinator at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. “So, when I heard he got into coaching at (the University of Houston), I thought to myself, ‘He’ll be a helluva coach.’ But I’d be lying if I told you I thought he would rise through the ranks this quickly.
“There’s a joke in the coaching business that Kliff got the biggest promotion in college football history. He went from (the entry-level position of offensive) quality control assistant to offensive coordinator in two years. Who does that? Obviously, he proved a lot to Coach (Kevin) Sumlin in a very short time. Now, look at him. He’s the OC of an SEC school. At 32. I’m super excited for him, and I’m excited for my alma mater. There’s no doubt in my mind that A&M got a big-time winner and a mover and shaker in Kliff.”
It would certainly appear so, and Gamble definitely isn’t alone in that assessment. Last year, FootballScoop.com named the then 31-year-old Kingsbury as the Offensive Coordinator of the Year. Not just in Conference USA, either. The website chose Kingsbury as the national OC of the Year for his work with Houston’s record-setting offense and the Cougars’ record-setting quarterback, Case Keenum.
Keenum finished the 2011 season with 5,631 yards passing, 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also finished his career with NCAA records for most completions (1,546), touchdowns (155), total offensive yards (20,114) and total scores (178).
Keenum had already produced a solid freshman season at UH before Kingsbury began working with him. But the two signal-callers instantly formed a strong bond, and Keenum credits Kingsbury for much of his development as a player.
kingsbury2“I can’t say enough about (Kingsbury’s) game plans and what Kliff meant to me,” Keenum said in the Houston Chronicle. “He’s a huge part of why I’m where I am today. I’m very appreciative of everything he’s done for me… He’s a guy who has gone through a lot of the same things I have, so I definitely leaned on him. He’s a guy who has not only seen it and coached it, but been in it, and (that was) huge for me.”
Current Texas A&M Director of Sports Performance Larry Jackson, who worked with Kingsbury at UH under Sumlin, says Kingsbury possesses the perfect combination of know-how and a no-fear mentality.
“He’s cocky in a really good way,” said Jackson, a defensive standout at A&M from 1991-94. “He always has a plan, and he is extremely confident in his ability to execute that plan.”
Added A&M associate athletic director for football Justin Moore, who also worked with Kingsbury at UH: “Kliff is an extremely hard worker, and he is extremely competitive in everything. You could see that as a player, and it’s the same as a coach. He is also very relatable. He is not that far removed from being a player, and he’s played the quarterback position at a very high level, which is a different position from any other on the field. And he is always going to find some way to give his quarterback and his offense an edge. He’s not set in his ways. He adapts to the situation at hand and creates schemes and plays that will allow his offense to be successful.”
In other words, Aggie fans who are worried that Kingsbury’s style of offense will not work in the SEC should relax. Take a deep breath and understand that just because the UH attempted 69 passes against Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl, doesn’t mean that the Aggies will do the same against Florida. Or LSU. Or Alabama.kingsbury3
And just because Kingsbury played in pass-first, sling-it-around offense at Texas Tech doesn’t mean that A&M will abandon the running game or no longer strive for offensive balance.
Kingsbury understands why some people who may have watched him at Tech or followed UH from afar could draw that conclusion. But he makes it clear that he is not tied to a particular offensive style. Nor is he necessarily intent on A&M becoming the most prolific passing offense in the SEC.
Kingsbury vows only to be creative and astute in his play-calling. If an opposing defense is more vulnerable in one area than another, Kingsbury will do whatever it takes to attack that weak spot. The emphasis is on whatever.
“My philosophy is to take what the defense gives you,” said the laid-back and self-assured Kingsbury. “If we need to run it 80 times a game to score points, we’ll do that. If we need to throw it 80 times, we’ll do that. If the opponent is out-manning us in one area, we will attack a different area. It’s all about creating advantages and using our strengths—whatever they may be—to attack an opponent’s weaknesses.
“In the Penn State game, we had to exploit them in areas where they were weak. They were really big and good up front, so we had to use our speed to beat them. We knew we could not stand toe-to-toe with them and out-power them. A great offense is about getting the best players possible and putting them in position to succeed. That’s what we did at Houston, and that’s what we are going to do here. We are going to have a great offensive line here, so we are going to do whatever we can do best to utilize that strength.”
Emphasis on whatever.
COACHING IN THE GENES
Growing up in New Braunfels, Kingsbury began discussing X’s and O’s before he ever mastered his ABC’s. His father, Tim, was a high school coach at New Braunfels—first as a longtime assistant and then as the head coach—and Kliff began to mimic his father, who was known throughout the community as the first coach to arrive at the practice field and the last to leave it.
The younger Kingsbury was a talented athlete, who was ranked No. 2 nationally in the AAU’s pentathlon competition when he was just 10. He also worked relentlessly. On Saturday nights in middle school and high school, when many teammates and friends were on dates or partying, Kingsbury went to the practice field to hone his accuracy by throwing hundreds of passes into a net.
kingsbury4Beyond his physical talents, Kingsbury also had an insatiable desire to understand the game at its deepest level. He devoured game films with his father and quizzed Tim constantly about the finer points of the game. By 1996, Kliff was Tim’s starting quarterback, but it was not a stellar debut season for the junior QB, who guided the Unicorns to a 4-6 finish, completing 86-of-168 passes for the season.
The outlook for 1997 wasn’t much better, as New Braunfels made the transition from Class 4A to 5A and joined the same district as traditional power Converse Judson. Realizing he needed to do something much different, Tim Kingsbury attended coaching clinics during the offseason that featured Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme, whose wide-open offense eventually made QB Tim Couch the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Kingsbury implemented Mumme’s drills, plays and formations at New Braunfels, and his son did a very nice impersonation of Couch.
Kliff finished the ’97 season with 3,009 passing yards and 34 TDs, completing 216-of-341 passes. Most important, he led the team to a 13-2 record and a berth in the state semifinals with six come-from-behind victories. Despite the senior-year heroics, not many colleges took a serious interest in the 6-foot-4, rail-thin Kingsbury.
Kingsbury wanted to go to Texas A&M, where his older brother, Klint, was already a student. But the Aggies had Vance Smith committed to them, and Texas was not an option because Adam Dunn was committed to the Longhorns. Mississippi State, coached then by Jackie Sherrill, showed mild interest before backing away, and Texas Tech finally provided an offer late in the recruiting process.
Kingsbury wasn’t exactly overjoyed by the prospect of playing in Spike Dykes’ run-oriented offense, but it beat playing at the Division I-AA ranks. So, Kingsbury went to Lubbock, redshirted in ’98 and started one game in ’99—the last game of the season and the final game in Dykes’ career. In that game, Kingsbury completed 9-of-17 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-28 upset win over Oklahoma.
Three weeks later, Tech hired OU offensive coordinator Mike Leach, who had worked under Mumme at Kentucky, Valdosta (Ga.) State and Iowa Wesleyan.kingsbury5
“My brother went to A&M, so that would have been a nice fit,” said Kingsbury, who graduated early from Tech with a 3.86 GPA in business management. “But that didn’t work out. I wasn’t very big and didn’t have the strongest arm. But I believed I could play at that level and be really successful. I ended up in Lubbock, and that definitely worked out. Coach Leach coming in there was a good fit for me, and I had a blast playing in his offense. He changed the culture of the Tech program, and it worked out really well for me personally.”
Indeed, it did. Kingsbury played 43 games and passed for 12,429 yards and 95 scores in his career at Tech. He left Lubbock with 39 school, 13 Big 12 and seven NCAA records.
“When I recruited Josh Heupel (at OU), one thing I really liked about him was that Josh’s dad was a coach,” Leach said. “And when I came to Tech and got the opportunity to coach Kliff, it was the same thing, with his dad being a high school head coach. Both Josh and Kliff have great minds for the game. I think a lot of that is a result of being around it all of their lives and watching their fathers coach.”
Unlike Heupel—the current co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma—Kingsbury says he didn’t ever envision following in his father’s coaching footsteps. Kingsbury figured he would play professionally as long as he could and then enter the business world. But fate intervened in Houston.
Kingsbury was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent one year with New England on the injured reserve list, earning a Super Bowl ring, and he spent the next year on the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. In 2005, he signed first with the Broncos and then with the Jets. He played in one game with the Jets—ironically against the Broncos—and then was assigned by the Jets to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. He enjoyed a great season in Cologne and then spent 2007 with Winnipeg of the CFL.
He still had a strong desire to play after all of those travels, so he signed with Houston-based, John Jenkins-coached Team Texas of the All American Football League in ’08. The league was scheduled to debut in the spring of 2008, but it never kicked off.
Kingsbury was training on the UH campus in preparation for the season, and when it became obvious that the league had bombed before it ever began, Kingsbury answered the call from one of his former coaches. Dana Holgorsen was an assistant at Tech from 2000-07, before moving to Houston as offensive coordinator in ’08.
Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia, asked Kingsbury if he’d be interested in working with the UH quarterbacks. With no other leads, Kingsbury decided to give it a shot.
“I never planned on coaching, but it just took off from there,” said Kingsbury, who still ranks in the top 15 in most passing yards in college football history. “I enjoyed being around (Holgorsen), and I enjoyed working with the kids. I signed on with Coach Sumlin to be the quality control guy. I did that for two years, and when Dana left (for Oklahoma State), I took over his job. I discovered pretty quickly that all those professional experiences prepared me for coaching in ways I could have never imagined. In New England, I watched Bill Belichick and his preparation, along with the work that Tom Brady put in each week. I also witnessed the preparation of coaches like (current Kansas University head coach) Charlie Weis, (current Kansas City Chiefs head coach) Romeo Crennel (former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach) Eric Mangini, who were all part of that Patriots staff.
“That staff left no stone unturned. I didn’t play much in the NFL, but I tell people I earned my PhD in coaching football from bouncing around. I learned nine different offenses; I got to see different coaching styles; and I picked up so many different plays and techniques. It was a tremendous experience.”
Kingsbury says he’s taken a little from all of those coaches, as well as Mike Leach, Art Briles, Holgorsen, former Saints offensive coordinator and current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and former Jets head coach Herman Edwards, in developing his own coaching style. And he most definitely possesses his own style.
Kingsbury is ultra cool. On most days, he shows up to work in jeans and a T-shirt, and there is not a pretentious bone in his body. He’s still lean, and he still looks more like a player than a coach. At least for the time being—and maybe until a few gray hairs show up years from now—Kingsbury plans on using his youth and his connection to the current players to his advantage.
“Being not too far removed from the game, I still talk to the players, especially the quarterbacks, about certain situations I was in, and it rings true to them,” Kingsbury said. “That may give me a little credibility with the guys. I spent some long nights studying playbooks, and I just try to pass along my knowledge to the quarterbacks and the offense as a whole. Anything I struggled with as a player I try to make easier for the guys I am coaching. My goal is to allow guys to play fast and allow their talents to shine. You can’t do that if things seem complicated. That’s what’s gotten me where I am so far. I do feel like this is my calling, and I love to watch these kids have success.
“Being around these kids at A&M, I already feel like I am a part of (Aggieland) all the way. It’s a great group, and we have tremendous talent. Hopefully, we can find a way to close out games. I know they have a bad taste in their mouths from last year, and they have something to prove. I have something to prove, too. I am still single and not dating anyone in particular. My focus has been entirely on football here. I told the team the first day, ‘I’m 32 and single. I didn’t come to College Station for the nightlife, so let’s win games.’ I came here to coach these guys and to do whatever it takes to win football games.”
You are either going to be a leader or not. to be a leader, you throw your shoulders back, tits to the sky, head up, cock out.
He definitely has swag. He drives an escalade that he bought himself. Not rented and given to him like every coach in America. I've heard nothing but good things about the king
Would love it if he's an elite recruiter as well. I respected the shit out of Muschamp who got heavily involved in recruiting at UT.
I'll be interested to hear whether he is a great recruiter as well. If he's as advertised then I hope we can hold on to him for a while.
This makes me want to punch him in the face, and then help him up and shake his hand.
It'll take several successful football seasons before I can like Kliff Kingsbury a whole lot.
Haha take solace in that he wanted to be an Ag in high school
I've wanted to be a Porn Star since I was 13y/o but that dosen't give me any credibility in the business.
Also talked to Kliff at the rodeo. Extremely down to earth and likeable.
And he had a hoard of women following him around like puppies.
I think he's got a very bright future.
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