'We went after him hard': How Kliff Kingsbury got the jump on recruiting high schooler Patrick Mahomes

Coach Kliff Kingsbury recruited Patrick Mahomes to Texas Tech, where the quarterback led the country with 5,052 yards in his final season. AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When B.J. Anderson would return to College Station after recruiting East Texas for Texas A&M, he’d have a pile of DVDs full of highlights to watch.

The former Aggies offensive line coach would go through each one, looking for players who caught his attention. It was his job to recruit every position, but his expertise was O-linemen, so when he came across a player -- like a quarterback, for example -- he’d pass along that highlight reel to the right position coach.

That’s why Anderson walked into then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's office in 2012 to talk about a relatively unknown quarterback from Whitehouse, Texas named Patrick Mahomes.

“I had seen tape of Pat and it doesn't take a real football guru to watch five minutes of tape and see how much arm talent he has,” Anderson said.

To people of a certain age in East Texas, the Mahomes name brings back memories of Major League pitcher Pat Mahomes, the quarterback’s father. Kingsbury was no different.

“His dad was a legend down in East Texas,” Kingsbury said.

When Kingsbury played the DVD, it was the first time he watched Mahomes play.

“I just thought he was really raw,” Kingsbury said. “He'd run around, make plays. He was definitely the best player on the field in any game he played. He just was raw.”

Kingsbury and Mahomes would meet after Kingsbury was hired as head coach at his alma mater, Texas Tech. Kingsbury zeroed in on Mahomes and was all-in on the young quarterback's potential before other college coaches caught up.

“[Kingsbury] was kind of like that first, at least on the college level, coach that believed in me,” Mahomes said.

On Sunday, a decade after discovering Mahomes, Kingsbury will coach against his former quarterback when the Arizona Cardinals host the Kansas City Chiefs to open their 2022 season (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).

“It'll be a little surreal going against him,” Kingsbury said. “But it'll be fun.”

BY THE END of the 2012 season, Kingsbury had established himself as a quarterback guru.

He was the playcaller in 2011 for a University of Houston offense that led the country with 599.1 yards per game, and he followed that up by coaching Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M in 2012 and helping him become an NFL first-round pick.

That made Kingsbury one of the hottest names in college football during the hiring cycle after the 2012 season. When Texas Tech decided not to keep interim head coach Chris Thomsen, Kingsbury returned to his alma mater. When he arrived in Lubbock, Kingsbury found out the coaches from the previous staff already knew about Mahomes. They had successfully recruited wide receiver Dylan Cantrell, who was a year ahead of Mahomes at Whitehouse.

Kingsbury made recruiting Mahomes, then a junior, one of his first priorities even though he hadn't seen Patrick play in a high school game. Kingsbury was impressed enough by Patrick’s highlight reel.

“I could see what I thought he could be," Kingsbury said. “... I loved how he’d extend plays and I don't think anybody thought he'd still be doing it at this level the way he does it. But he has a special knack at it, probably the best ever at doing it.

"We went after him hard and knew that we needed to get him.”

Kingsbury made that clear to Mahomes soon after getting the job, said Adam Cook, Mahomes’ high school football coach.

Back in 2013, there wasn’t much to evaluate Mahomes on. The book on the quarterback was that he was a playmaker, said Craig Haubert, a coordinator for ESPN Recruiting.

“In terms of mechanics, what he would look for or his methods weren’t always pretty,” Haubert said. “But he was effective. He made plays despite not having perfect mechanics. He was really accurate, and he was kind of known as one of those guy who just got it done.”

Being first paid off for Kingsbury in the long run.

"[Kingsbury's] just a smooth operator,” said Mahomes' father Pat. “No holds barred, came right in and said, ‘Hey, I like [Patrick]. Nobody else is recruiting him, but I would love for him to come up and have a visit with me.’”

Kingsbury couldn’t rely on his reputation as a Heisman finalist quarterback at Texas Tech in 2002 when he courted Patrick. Pat didn’t really know anything about Kingsbury. What impressed the elder Mahomes, though, and earned Kingsbury major points with the family, was that he came into his recruitment of Patrick with a plan.

During a home visit, Kingsbury sat with Patrick’s parents -- Pat and his mom, Randi Martin -- and gave his recruiting pitch. Then he mapped out how Patrick could play football and baseball for the Red Raiders. Kingsbury was direct with Patrick’s parents: Patrick was raw and the coach wasn't promising Patrick a starting job, but he thought Patrick had the game to play in the NFL.

Ensuring Patrick had an opportunity to play baseball -- he was drafted in Round 37 by the Detroit Tigers in 2014 -- at Texas Tech was as important as anything else. During one of the family’s visits to Lubbock, Kingsbury had baseball coach Tim Tadlock talk to Patrick, Pat and Randi. He laid out a schedule for Patrick to play both sports.

In the back of his mind, Pat never thought Patrick would play football at the college level. He tried talking him out of playing football after Patrick’s sophomore year of high school.

“I thought he was wasting his time,” Pat said. “I said, ‘Um, what are we doing? We're either gonna play baseball or we're gonna play basketball in college. So why are we spending this excess time doing this football thing?’”

Patrick’s response was that he couldn’t sit in the stands of a football game and watch his teammates play without helping them. Pat finally realized his son could, in fact, be a college football player when Kingsbury started recruiting him. Even then, Pat thought a football scholarship would be Patrick’s way of getting to play college baseball because most baseball scholarships aren’t full rides.

On Jan. 11, 2013, less than a month after taking the Texas Tech job, Kingsbury offered Patrick a scholarship.

“He offered me whenever I had no real offers," Mahomes said. "He came in and told me he was going to let me be myself. He was going to let me play baseball. He was going to let me be that same guy that I was coming in.”

Kingsbury made as many trips to Whitehouse as he was allowed by the NCAA, Cook remembered. Kingsbury would travel the 461 miles to watch Patrick play a basketball game.

Kingsbury got to know Patrick, the quarterback, better after working him out at camps. That’s when Kingsbury knew what he had in Patrick.

“You could tell he just had some special ability and the characteristics of a real winner, real leader,” Kingsbury said. “I mean guys gravitated to him as soon as they were around him. So, we knew that would be a big get for us.”

Patrick had a big senior year for Whitehouse on his way to earning the Texas AP Player of the Year award.

Despite that, the quarterback wasn’t getting much interest from other schools. In the end, only two schools other than Texas Tech offered Patrick a scholarship: Rice and Oklahoma State.

Part of the reason, Kingsbury believed, was Patrick wasn’t the type of traditional quarterback that schools coveted a decade ago with “tight footwork, the release and all that stuff.” Now, he’d likely be one of the most wanted quarterbacks in the country, with offers stuffing his mailbox and NIL opportunities stacking up.

“Some of that was just coaches being comfortable in allowing that much freedom to the quarterback,” Cook said. “I mean, their job depends on that. Their livelihood, their success is gonna depend on those decisions. And the way that Patrick plays is he compromises the old style of coaching.”

Patrick, however, thinks it was a combination of the possibility of him playing baseball and not being as active on the football camp circuit.

“I didn’t go out to any of that stuff,” Patrick said. “I was from a small town in East Texas and I played football during football season and after that I played baseball the whole time or basketball so I didn’t kind of make myself visible.

“Luckily enough for me, Kliff found me down there, offered me.”

The chance that Patrick would forego football in favor of baseball was enough to scare teams away, especially because the Major League Baseball draft is in June -- leaving schools high and dry if their three-star quarterback went the baseball route.

“He had the reputation to be a really, really good baseball player. He’s one of the top guys,” former University of Texas quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said of Patrick.

When it came down to it, though, it wasn’t Pat or Patrick who Kingsbury had to sell the most -- it was Randi. Cook remembers Patrick wanting her stamp of approval on his school of choice.

On one recruiting trip to Lubbock that Patrick and Pat went on, Kingsbury drove them around campus on a personal tour, despite there being about 60 other recruits on campus, Pat estimated. They ended up back in Kingsbury’s office and Kingsbury played a video that had Manziel highlights and clips from the Heisman Trophy ceremony spliced with Patrick’s highlights. The last screen said: “Who’s next?”

“Patrick's eyes were about as big as they could be,” Pat said. “He wanted to commit right then.”

Pat wouldn’t let his son declare his intention to play at Texas Tech without talking to his mother first. She joined Patrick and Pat at the Red Raiders’ spring game in 2013.

Kingsbury’s work paid off. Patrick committed to Texas Tech on April 21, 2013. It hardly made a ripple in the recruiting waters around the country.

Right after Patrick told Kingsbury, he and his mother left the office. Only Pat and Kingsbury were left, and Pat wanted to talk. He assured Kingsbury he wasn’t going to be one of those “crazy dads” who show up to watch practice. He wasn’t going to complain about playing time. He just had one request for Kingsbury.

“I said, ‘But what I am gonna say to you is, I'm giving you my son. So, you take care of my son, just like you would take care of your son, and we're good,’” Pat said. “And that was our initial conversation, and he's done exactly what he said he would do. And that's why I love him, man. So much.”

ONCE PATRICK COMMITTED, Kingsbury committed back to Patrick.

He wiped his recruiting board clean of quarterbacks.

Patrick was his guy.

“That spoke volumes to me,” Cook said. “Just to see Coach Kingsbury take all those other guys off there and what that meant, it showed me a lot about his mindset and how he was showing Patrick that he was all-in.”

Kingsbury wanted Patrick for who Patrick was as a quarterback -- a non-traditional playmaker. Those were the types of quarterbacks Kingsbury had had success with, like Manziel. Kingsbury tinkered with Patrick's mechanics during their time together at Texas Tech but never changed who he was at his core.

“He was great for me, as someone who was really raw at the quarterback position, to learn but not to get overwhelmed,” Patrick said.

Maybe too great.

Patrick led the country in passing in 2016 with 5,052 yards. When he began exploring the idea of leaving Texas Tech for the draft after his junior season, Kingsbury jumped into recruitment mode again.

The NFL’s evaluation of Patrick projected him to be a second-round pick -- or maybe later. That was Kingsbury’s opening to convince Patrick to stay for another year. He met with Patrick and his family in a private room at the Grove Kitchen and Gardens in Tyler, Texas. Pat knew what was coming.

“Why wouldn’t he want him to come back?” Pat asked with a laugh. “That was never an issue. I mean, he made valid points with what he was saying and everything, and Patrick was coming off hand surgery and all that. So, there was a lot of reasons that he could have went back, but Pat just felt like that he was ready to go.”

Patrick remembers Kingsbury’s advice was to go “all-in” with his decision, whatever it may be. In the back of his mind, though, Kingsbury knew this recruiting effort was futile.

"I appreciate them giving me the opportunity, but it was a forgone conclusion," Kingsbury said. "So, I did my best.”

Patrick didn’t go in the second round -- he was selected 10th overall by the Chiefs; the second quarterback taken after Mitch Trubisky.

Patrick and Kingsbury stay in regular contact. They were texting earlier this week with Texas Tech offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, who was a student assistant when Patrick was at Texas Tech, about the 63 points the Red Raiders put up against Murray State last Saturday.

While it’ll be “surreal” for Kingsbury to face Patrick, it’s going to be “cool” for the quarterback to play against the college coach who believed in him first.

But that’s not stopping Patrick from wanting to beat him.

“Hopefully, I get the win, because you’ll have those little bragging rights, you know?” Mahomes said. “Because I see him every once in a while, in the offseason, out in Lubbock and stuff like that, so it’s definitely going to be an awesome moment that we’ll have forever."