New USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will interview for multiple NFL head coaching jobs in the coming days, creating a nervous new year for Trojans head coach Clay Helton and the USC fan base.
Kingsbury reportedly rebuked an offer to be the head coach at the University of Houston, where he began his coaching career. He is expected to interview for head coach with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, people with knowledge of those situations said. Both teams feature talented young quarterbacks that he could groom in Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, respectively.
Former Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase is believed to be the favorite to replace the fired Steve Wilks in Arizona. But other NFL franchises could have interest in Kingsbury, too, as the league reacts to the success of young, offensive-minded head coaches like the Rams’ Sean McVay and the Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy.
After Kingsbury was fired by his alma mater, Texas Tech, where he had a 35-40 record in six seasons as head coach, he accepted the position at USC after speaking with McVay about a potential role with the Rams.
But will NFL head coaching openings pique his interest more than assistant positions?
McVay was interested in Kingsbury and, asked Wednesday about his reported head coaching candidacy in the NFL, expressed confidence in how Kingsbury carried himself.
“You know he’s got a lot more experience in a head coaching role than I do,” McVay said, “but I know being able to lean on people and do it together and not feel like you got to have all the answers because there are other people that are there with you that have been through things you just haven’t been through.
“I think he’s a great coach. And he’s got a nice presence about himself. Even when he came here this offseason just watching him interact with some of our guys, you know it’s not really anything you can put your thumb on, but when you’re around certain people, you can just get a feel that that guy’s got some stuff to ‘em, where people will follow him. So I’ve got a lot of respect for Kliff in that regard.”
Kingsbury’s style of offense — with a heavy reliance on a quick-paced passing game — could put extra pressure on his own team’s defense. NFL teams might also question whether he has the cachet among NFL coaches to build a strong and experienced staff of assistants, people in the league familiar with coaching searches said.
Kingsbury has had a hand in the development of three current NFL starting quarterbacks — MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes, Cleveland Browns rookie success story Baker Mayfield and Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.