UPDATED AT 12:50PM PACIFIC TIME; TUESDAY JANUARY 8TH; Per multiple media outlets USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who has been on the job 33 days, is set to take the job as new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
UPDATED AT 9:40PM PACIFIC TIME (1/7): Kingsbury’s name remains on the USC athletic department roster, but sources confirm not only did he interview with the Jets, but also with the Arizona Cardinals. Other sources confirm he has been offered the head coaching job with the Cardinals.
It appears that Kliff Klingsbury will in fact be leaving USC as offensive coordinator, so that he can pursue a head coaching job in the NFL. UPDATED AT 2:45 PACIFIC TIME (1/7): It has been confirmed that Kingsbury is interviewing with the New York Jets. USC had previously blocked him from the interview. Kingsbury’s name still no longer shows up on the USC coaching roster as it once did, but does still remain on the USC athletic department roster, which was not mentioned in previous reports here. The coaches roster has reverted to the 2018 listing, post Tee Martin’s firing.
Both the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals had wanted to talk to Kingsbury about their coaching vacancies. But at the owners’ meetings last month, all teams were told by the NFL, that a rule on the books for several years was now going to be enforced. The rule requires NFL teams to seek permission from the college to interview any head or assistant coach. The penalty for not doing so would be the forfeiture of picks in the upcoming draft. The league would use the rule determining that the team was acting in a way that was “detrimental to the league.”
Kingsbury would have to pay his own contract buyout to get out of USC. The NFL team can not assist in any way. The amount of the buyout is not yet known.
Kingsbury signed with USC in early December after being fired as head coach at Texas Tech. He spent six years in Lubbock and finished with a 35-40 overall record, and 19-35 overall. Still, he figured to be much sought after. It was based on the reputation for offensive prowess the Red Raiders had during his tenure. In 2015, they ranked second in the country in total offense. In 2016, they were fifth. His quarterback those two years was current Kansas City Chiefs phenom Patrick Mahomes. Since he became offensive coordinator at Texas Tech in 2011, his teams averaged 550 yards and 42 points per game. Conversely the defense was near the bottom in the nation most years, thus the losing record.
USC fans were exuberant upon the hiring of Kingsbury. The Trojans finished the 2018 season 5-7. They had plenty of talent on offense, but plenty of youth as well. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin was stripped of his play calling duties in early November.
Head coach Clay Helton took over the play calling at that point. The Trojans proceeded to score 14 points against a bad Cal team, in route to losing three in a row to end the season. Helton was having to defend his job at the end of the season. Martin was dismissed from the staff. With Kingsbury coming in, USC faithful had visions of scoreboard busting offenses dancing in their heads.
Athletic director Lynn Swann was put in a no-win situation. He could let Kingsbury do the interviews and hope he would not get an offer appealing enough to leave USC. Or, he could deny the interview requests from the NFL, basically applying a restraint of trade situation on Kingsbury. The potential for keeping a coach who wanted to be somewhere else was never going to work for anyone.
The impact on USC’s recruiting is to be determined. The Trojans signed a significant enough group in the early signing period in December to have the 16th ranked class, per the 247Sports composite rankings. Kingsbury had minimal impact on that class. He had only been in place for a couple of weeks prior to the signing days. But on Saturday at the high school All American game in San Antonio, five-star wide receiver recruit Kyle Ford from Orange Lutheran announced his verbal commitment to USC. In his announcement, Ford was clear that playing for Kingsbury was a significant factor. With Ford not being able to sign until February 6th, along with any other recruits committed but not yet signed, the door could be open for some late changes in their process.
Even if the head coaching jobs in the NFL do not pan out, there will certainly be enough interest in Kingsbury as a coordinator at the next level, so the move is no risk on his part.
As for USC, they are now looking for an offensive coordinator for the second time in three months. With most of the job shifting in the college ranks complete for now, expect the Trojans to scour the list of NFL coaching staffs that have been fired in the last week to 10 days for their next candidate.