Kliff Kingsbury to join USC’s football coaching staff

Kliff Kingsbury walks onto an NFL field.
Former Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was offensive coordinator at USC for 34 days about four years ago, will rejoin the Trojans’ staff as a senior offensive analyst.
(Associated Press)

His first stint at USC lasted all of 34 days, a monthlong layover as offensive coordinator on his way to Arizona and the NFL. There was barely time for Kliff Kingsbury to unpack his bags at Heritage Hall in January 2019 before the Cardinals came calling, making him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Four years after he left, Kingsbury has made his way back to L.A.

This time, he won’t call plays. He won’t even be a full-time member of USC’s coaching staff. Kingsbury is joining coach Lincoln Riley’s staff as a senior offensive analyst, working with the Trojans’ quarterbacks in a support role.

Riley called his arrival “another example of where [USC is] headed.”

“He sees the opportunity that this is right now,” Riley said Tuesday. “Which is a cool statement for our program, that a guy like that would want to come take this role and help this program take another big step, and he recognizes what’s going on.”


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Kingsbury should be well suited to fill his new role. A prolific college quarterback at Texas Tech, he has accumulated an extensive list of accomplished passers who have spent time under his tutelage. He has worked with Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and Kyler Murray with the Cardinals, earning a reputation along the way as an Air Raid passing expert and developer of quarterbacks.

At USC, he is expected to work closely with Caleb Williams, giving the reigning Heisman Trophy winner another valuable voice in the Trojans’ quarterbacks room.

The opportunity to add Kingsbury began with a friendly check-in between Riley and Kingsbury last month. Riley had already spoken to a couple of candidates to replace Will Harriger, an offensive analyst who left for a job with the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason. But he had yet to find the right person.

That’s when Kingsbury came to town.

“I asked Kliff just in kind of passing if it’d be something he’d be interested in and described it to him,” Riley said. “And he thought about it for a little bit. I thought it just ended up being a great fit for both sides. He’s obviously got familiarity with our offense, he’s got familiarity with a lot of the members on our staff, so I think that certainly made sense.”

Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with quarterback Kyler Murray.
Then-Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with quarterback Kyler Murray during a game in October. Kingsbury has a reputation as a passing guru.
(Abbie Parr / Associated Press)

For Kingsbury, USC also offers a soft landing after a steep fall from grace as the Cardinals coach. Just 13 months ago, ahead of his fourth season with Arizona, Kingsbury signed a contract extension with the Cardinals through 2027. He had just taken the team to the playoffs.


The relationship soured quickly from there as Arizona skidded to a 4-13 finish last season. Kingsbury was fired shortly thereafter.

The circumstances are vaguely similar to the first time Kingsbury landed at USC. When he agreed in December 2018 to join coach Clay Helton’s staff as USC’s offensive coordinator, Kingsbury had recently been fired by Texas Tech. Four of his six seasons as the Red Raiders coach yielded records below .500. Before that, he had served short stints as a coordinator at Texas A&M and Houston.

Still, his reputation as a passing guru preceded him when he signed on at USC. Kingsbury was one of the hottest names available on the coaching market. His hire was viewed at the time as a coup for Helton and embattled athletic director Lynn Swann, both of whom were under fire after a disastrous 2018 season.

His early exit only fanned those flames. Kingsbury resigned from his role as offensive coordinator in order to interview with the New York Jets and the Cardinals. He chose the latter team, leaving USC to scramble for a new coordinator.

“I thought that was an incredible opportunity with Coach Helton, Mr.Swann, that program, that tradition,” Kingsbury said at the time, “but this is just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

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The Trojans eventually settled on Graham Harrell, another former Texas Tech quarterback. He lasted three seasons as offensive coordinator at USC before Riley — a third consecutive former Red Raiders quarterback — took the reins as coach for the 2022 season. Kingsbury spent the next four seasons working with Murray, a quarterback whom Riley helped coach to a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma.


The two coaches’ paths already had been intertwined. Kingsbury was a senior quarterback in Lubbock, Texas, setting records at the helm of coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, when Riley first joined the Red Raiders as a walk-on.

They would grow closer still when Arizona drafted Murray, opening a line of communication to discuss their shared pupil and his progress.

Now their paths will cross again as Kingsbury makes his way back to L.A., this time as a part of Riley’s staff — and with lower stakes.