Thursday, November 15, 2012
Kliff Kingsbury is big part of Aggies' surge
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There are plenty of terms that have been used to describe Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.
He has been called everything from creative and aggressive (referring to his style of coaching) to cool and suave (referring to his appearance).
Kliff Kingsbury first began calling plays in his third year as coach, in 2010 with Houston.
A term one would probably never associate with the 33-year-old rising star assistant, who is quickly becoming an "It guy" in college football coaching circles, is one that he has used on himself: soccer dad.
"There's no question," Kingsbury said, "[I have] the ultimate soccer dad syndrome going on."
No, Kingsbury doesn't have children, unless you count his quarterbacks, who might as well be. Kingsbury always wanted to be an NFL quarterback. He pursued a professional career for six years after graduating from Texas Tech and before entering coaching in 2008, when he joined his good friend Dana Holgorsen and coach Kevin Sumlin at Houston as a quality control assistant. After spending a year working with the Cougars quarterbacks and helping teach them the intricacies of the Air Raid offense, Kingsbury became comfortable with the idea of coaching.
But deep in his heart, he wishes he was still playing. And he does the next best thing: He lives vicariously through his quarterback, Aggies redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel now, and Houston's Case Keenum before him.
"The biggest stress to me is that I give the quarterback each game the best possible chance to be successful," Kingsbury said. "I never want to watch the film and say, 'I didn't give him a chance to make the plays.' Once the plays are already made, hey, you've got to make them. But as long as I'm giving him a chance to make the plays, then I can sleep at night. If we had a game where I didn't -- which I've had -- then I just feel bad and I want to find a way to make him be successful."
And that competitor who still lives inside Kingsbury, combined with the synergy he has with his signal-caller, is why, when Manziel makes a big-time throw or even one of his signature "Johnny Football" plays, the former Texas Tech quarterback gets so fired up on the sideline, whether it's a yell, an enthusiastic fist-pump or a slap on the butt of Sumlin, which he performed in the Aggies' win over Mississippi State.
"As in any other athletic event, you know the work you put in and it's a great feeling, and I just think watching the players have success, knowing their backgrounds and knowing all their stories, knowing how much they've put in, that they've bought into what you're selling and they've only known you a couple of months, it's very fulfilling," Kingsbury said.
This is Kingsbury's fifth year of coaching, but even at his young age he's making a significant impact on the Aggies and is one of the driving forces behind their first-year success in the Southeastern Conference. Many questioned whether it was possible to bring the up-tempo, wide-open offense that Kingsbury and Sumlin used successfully at Houston in Conference USA to the big, bad SEC.
Before the 2012 season, Kingsbury said to "wait and see." He isn't much for talking and making predictions. But now, with 10 games under their belts, the 8-2 Aggies rank fifth in the country in total offense (545.4 yards per game) and first in the SEC. It's safe to say those questions have been answered. Kingsbury's dedication has been a big part of that.
"He's probably the first guy in the office here every day," Sumlin said. "He's always looking for new stuff, new wrinkles.
"You can't have a bigger stage than we were on Saturday [against Alabama] or a bigger platform that we've been on this year. He's continued to handle it. ... He's got all the intangibles and all the 'it' factor. He's going to be a great head coach one day."
Sumlin gave Kingsbury play-calling duties before the 2010 season at Houston, when Kingsbury was just 31 and in his third year as a coach. Kingsbury said Sumlin never questioned him after that point and that he respected that. New Houston head coach Tony Levine, who worked with Kingsbury for four years there, said the young coach is as smart as they come.
"The thing that stood out to me and that I don't know that everybody's aware of is how intelligent Kliff Kingsbury is," Levine said. "People talk about men and women in all different occupations at times as being brilliant and Kliff has a brilliant mind. He's an outside-the-box thinker. He's extremely creative. And he's extremely organized. And he's got a memory as sharp as anyone I've been around."
The Aggies' 29-24 win over then-No. 1 Alabama last weekend was a huge victory for the Texas A&M program, and for Kingsbury and this offense. He was always confident that his scheme would work, even in a league known for its defense, and the players have fed off his confidence.
"He coaches with emotion," senior receiver Ryan Swope said. "That's something that's a ton of fun to play for. He's a guy that's going to go for the throat on third down or even when we're practicing. We're practicing to win, to have that confidence on the field, so it's a lot of fun playing for Coach Kingsbury."
Kingsbury joked that some Aggies are finally accepting of him after the Alabama win. Because he played for a rival school, Texas Tech, that hasn't always been the case. But he's all in, and the Aggies are better for it.
"I knew if it went bad early, I'd be a good fall guy with my background," he said with a laugh. "After the Alabama game I got some serious love. They forgave me for being a Red Raider for the first time."