Kliff Kingsbury can point to Patrick Mahomes as proof he can coach

Cardinals looking to improve offense with Kingsbury hire (1:10)

Josh Weinfuss breaks down the Cardinals' decision to hire Kliff Kingsbury as head coach. (1:10)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kliff Kingsbury knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. After all, he was one.

And that will make up for everything he doesn't know about being an NFL head coach.

The Arizona Cardinals hired Kingsbury on Tuesday to replace Steve Wilks, who finished 3-13 during his one season in charge.

Kingsbury was the quarterback at Texas Tech for four seasons, setting seven NCAA records during his career and winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy, given to the top collegiate quarterback in the country, his senior season. He also was coached by quarterback guru Mike Leach. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 draft by the New England Patriots, but never caught on in the league, bouncing around the fringe of several teams and playing in just one regular-season game.

There's no denying that hiring the 39-year-old Kingsbury is a risk for the Cardinals -- one general manager Steve Keim is essentially betting his job and reputation on. Kingsbury comes to Arizona after spending his entire coaching career in the college ranks, the past five years as head coach at Texas Tech, where he amassed a 35-40 record.

But there's also no denying the Cardinals need to develop quarterback Josh Rosen, whom they took with the No. 10 pick in the draft last season. Rosen struggled during his rookie season, finishing dead last Total QBR with a rating of 26.0. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rosen threw in tight windows on 21.6 percent of passes (most in NFL).

And working with Rosen is where Kingsbury can make everyone forget about his lack of NFL experience.

Kingsbury's résumé is full of quarterback success stories. Baker Mayfield. Johnny Manziel. Case Keenum. Davis Webb. Nic Shimonek. And some guy named Patrick Mahomes.

Sure, all of them had success running Kingsbury's "Air Raid" scheme in college. It's a spread offense that lets quarterbacks throw at will. Kingsbury, who ran it under Leach, once threw 70 times in a game.

That kind of offense has drawn skepticism around the NFL, including from former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who is finalizing a deal to become the next coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arians' chief complaint about young quarterbacks is they can't command a huddle because, in the spread, they'd run no-huddle and look to the sideline for the plays.

Whether the Cardinals will run the "Air Raid" or some version of it is yet to be seen, but this much is certain: Kingsbury knows how to coach quarterbacks. That won't change regardless of the scheme Arizona runs. And the spread is starting to infiltrate the NFL as pro coaches are stealing from their young quarterbacks' college playbooks to help them adapt quicker.

Kingsbury used tough-love tactics on Manziel back in 2012 at Texas A&M, leading to an 11-win season and a Heisman Trophy for Manziel. Kingsbury also groomed Mahomes into a top-10 pick while cultivating his dazzling arm for three years at Texas Tech.

"I think he could be a great NFL coach," said Mahomes early Tuesday. "He has the work ethic. He has the passion for the game. I know he loves this sport and he'd be able to relate to quarterbacks. He would put in the work. Now it's about him finding out where he needs to be at."

The key to Kingsbury's success as a head coach, which will ultimately be determined by wins and losses, will be who he surrounds himself with. One of his first decisions will be whether or not he'll call the plays. If he does, then his offensive coordinator will be in title only. If he doesn't, then Kingsbury will have to find someone who's in lock-step with his creative genius. That would also give him more time to work one-on-one with Rosen, who'll be on his third coordinator and second coach in two seasons. It's hard to believe Kingsbury will give the reins of the offense to anyone. His offensive ingenuity is why the Cardinals are risking 2019 on a mostly-unproven coach.

If Kingsbury can hire a defensive coordinator who can operate without much guidance, then Kingsbury will be ahead of the game. That kind of arrangement worked for Arians, who ran the offense while Todd Bowles and then James Bettcher ran the defense. Arians checked in occasionally, gave his opinion on things, but trusted his defensive assistants.

And if Kingsbury is going to learn from his most recent predecessor in Arizona, he'll stock his staff with coaches who have NFL experience.

But the more he can focus on Rosen, the better off he'll be -- and the better off the Cardinals will be.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher contributed to this report.