Kliff Kingsbury has USC playing waiting game as he interviews with NFL teams

Kliff Kingsbury was fired after the season from his position as head coach at Texas Tech after six seasons in which his teams went 35-40.
(John Weast / Getty Images)

Last month, USC coach Clay Helton compared the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to winning the lottery.

With each day that passes, though, Helton, athletic director Lynn Swann and the Trojans faithful are having to come to grips more and more with the idea they may have been dealt a counterfeit ticket.

Monday ended with a USC spokesman being able to say only that Kingsbury is “still listed on our website’s athletic department staff directory” when asked of Kingsbury’s status with the school.


People with knowledge of the situation say Kingsbury, fired after the season from his position as head coach at Texas Tech after six seasons in which his teams went 35-40, interviewed with the New York Jets on Monday for their head coaching vacancy. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

Next up for Kingsbury are the Arizona Cardinals, and he is believed to be a very strong candidate.

People said to expect a resolution in the next 48 hours.

Zac Taylor, quarterbacks coach for the Rams, is also a strong candidate for the Cardinals, with whom he already interviewed. Taylor also has spoken with the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos about their head coaching vacancies.

It is unclear whether Swann changed his mind about letting Kingsbury interview for NFL jobs — there have been unconfirmed reports in the last few days that Swann initially rebuked franchises trying to talk with Kingsbury, which is not the usual protocol when an NFL team comes calling for a college coordinator.

People around the NFL said those reports turned Kingsbury into an even more appealing candidate.

Kingsbury, the 39-year-old former backup quarterback with the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets, is credited with finding current MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs as an underappreciated high school quarterback and developing him into a first-round draft pick at Texas Tech. Kingsbury also recruited and coached last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, when the quarterback was a walk-on at Texas Tech before he transferred to Oklahoma and became a star.


Kingsbury also was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2012 when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.

The NFL is a quarterback’s league like never before, and the buzz is that nobody can work a quarterback like Kingsbury. That’s what had Helton giddy when he discussed Kingsbury at USC’s early signing day last month.

Many questions will weigh on the Jets and Cardinals and any other team that wants to take a crack at Kingsbury as a head coach now that he’s hit the open market once again. A big one: How would a guy who has never coached in the NFL go about putting together the right staff around him?

Last week, when it was first leaked that Kingsbury had NFL suitors, Rams coach Sean McVay, a friend, expressed confidence in his demeanor and noted that Kingsbury has more experience as a head coach than McVay did prior to getting the Rams job.

McVay’s success is part of the draw to Kingsbury.

This is considered a down year in terms of NFL head coaching candidates. Fired Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is the only thing close to a hot commodity.

For USC, there is nothing else to do in the coming days but watch and wait. At the very least, Helton should probably retrieve his offensive coordinator wish list, lest he find himself caught at the end of the coaching carousel season with nothing but a losing ticket.


Twitter: @BradyMcCollough