Kliff Kingsbury could not have chosen a better pit stop for the 2023 college football season.
Being a senior offensive analyst at USC has its perks. He gets to have his name attached to a national championship contender. He gets to work with Lincoln Riley. He gets to be near reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Those are résumé builders for a man who will be seeking a head coaching job soon.
Kingsbury, 44, doesn’t need an extreme makeover, but his brand could use some polishing after being fired twice.
He was booted after going 36-38 in six seasons at Texas Tech. He got the axe after going 28-37-1 in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals.
Kingsbury has one of the strangest career tragedies we’ve ever seen; someone with a career .460 winning percentage usually does not get high-profile opportunities.
Still, an athletic director probably will give him another chance. He does offer something impressive. All he needs to do is show his PowerPoint presentation featuring some of the quarterbacks he has worked with: Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and now Williams. That’s three Heisman recipients and a two-time NFL MVP. ‘Nuff said.
With Kliff Kingsbury joining the USC staff this season, he will have the opportunity to work with yet another high profile name at the QB position 😤 pic.twitter.com/6fjFdiCVpZ— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 9, 2023
Detractors can poke a few holes at that list. Kingsbury had two losing seasons in Mahomes’ three years as a starter at Texas Tech. In Arizona, he had one winning season in four years with Murray. However, at least on the collegiate stage, Kingsbury understands quarterbacks and makes them better. We didn’t even include Baker Mayfield, who played one season (2013) under Kingsbury before transferring to Oklahoma, where he won the 2017 Heisman.
By aligning himself with Riley and Williams, Kingsbury makes himself more attractive to future employers. Who cares that he’s not technically a coach? Due to NCAA rules, as an analyst, Kingsbury is limited when it comes to interactions with players. It’s a role that is viewed more like a support staff member. He’s allowed to assist the Trojan coaches in game-planning and other matters. Being an analyst is a gray area. Programs can add brainpower without going over the 10-person limit on official coaches.
This practice of bringing in former head coaches into “non-coaching” roles might not have started with Nick Saban at Alabama, but he certainly perfected it. Steve Sarkisian is the best example. After being fired at USC, Sarkisian spent 2016 as an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide. Later that same season, when Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin left to take over Florida Atlantic before the national championship game, Saban promoted Sarkisian to OC. Sarkisian now has one of the best jobs in the country as Texas’ head coach.
Kingsbury could follow a similar path back to head coaching. The question is: how soon will it be? He might not need to serve as an offensive coordinator to get an interview with a Power 5 school. Being a former NFL coach with his QB track record is enough to resonate with recruits.
What does Kingsbury think about his prospects? We don’t know because USC has declined to make him available to the media. But it stands to reason that Kingsbury will be discerning and not just take the first offer.
College football has become volatile due to conference realignment and the transfer portal. Kingsbury is at a school that has benefited from both. USC is moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten in 2024. The Trojans also landed its star quarterback, Williams, thanks to the transfer portal. Kingsbury might want to go to a place that enjoys similar advantages.
It will be his chance to prove that he’s a better coach than his overall record indicates.