Kliff Kingsbury

Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury watches his players before a game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.

The high point of the 2020 season for the Arizona Cardinals was the Hail Murray against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 15. Why couldn’t they sustain that momentum? Look no further than the head coach.

I was critical of the Kliff Kingsbury hiring from the very beginning.

He won five games in his first season as Cardinals coach. Not good. But he deserved a little time to see how things played out with his offense and his handpicked quarterback, Kyler Murray.

At times this season, I thought maybe Kingsbury could work. The offensive production ranked near the top of the league. Murray was progressing, and the Cardinals were winning.

After the aforementioned Hail Murray play, in which Murray evaded a sack, ran for his life toward the sideline and then heaved a 43-yard prayer to the end zone that all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught between three Buffalo defenders for a game-winning score, all was good.

The Cardinals were 6-3 and appeared to be a lock for the newly expanded 14-team playoff field. That did not happen.

Instead, here is what happened in Arizona’s last seven games of the season: it went 2-5, including an 18-7 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday that eliminated them from the playoffs. The Rams were playing backup QB John Wolford, making his first-ever NFL start.

In the last two games against the Rams and San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals lost both and scored a total of 19 points. They scored a combined two touchdowns in those two games.

In the NFL, as in all sports, it’s not about how you start but how you finish. The 8-8 Cardinals missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

What changed from the first nine games to the last seven? Simply, it was the offense; the side of the ball for which Kingsbury is 100% responsible.

In the first nine games, Arizona averaged 29.6 points per game and 425.6 total yards. In the last seven, the scoring average dropped an alarming nine points per game to 20.6. The total yards plummeted to 332 per game.

Kingsbury, an acolyte of Mike Leach and his Air Raid offense, has been criticized by fans and media for his play calling and game management.

The most recent point of ridicule came, rightly so, for a comically bad play call in the fourth quarter against the Rams on Sunday.

On third-and-18, the Cardinals attempted an option run with Murray, who was nursing an injured ankle. He missed a large portion of the game due to the ankle, and he appeared gimpy and completely immobile late in the game. Not surprisingly, the play failed badly.

The play calls aren’t the only problem. How about discipline? The Cardinals were the most penalized team in the NFL this season.

That’s on the head coach. It comes as no shock to me, since this is the same Kliff Kingsbury who said shortly after he was hired that he would allow players to take breaks at the team facility to check their phones and social media accounts.

And here’s another painfully obvious fact: Kingsbury is the worst coach in the division — by a long shot. Do you really expect him to outcoach Seattle’s Pete Carroll, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan or Los Angeles’ Sean McVay on any given Sunday?

With a roster of coaches like that in the NFC West, the Cardinals are at a major coaching disadvantage.

Why did Steve Keim hire Kingsbury in the first place?

As head coach at Texas Tech — Kingsbury’s alma mater — he went 35-40, including a 19-35 record in Big 12 games. He had losing records in each of his last three years and was fired after the 2018 season. He had zero NFL coaching experience.

It’s starting to look like Kingsbury is in over his head. Being anointed an offensive guru doesn’t make one a good head coach. See Adam Gase, just fired by the New York Jets on Monday.

It may be premature to fire Kingsbury — although not unreasonable — but a leash that was once long has grown very short. If there aren’t significant improvements from him in multiple areas next season, then 2021 needs to be his last in the desert.


Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.