When Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on the sideline during Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, it will be his first time standing across the field from Kliff Kingsbury, his former head coach at Texas Tech.
Kingsbury is entering his fourth season as Arizona’s head coach — which followed six seasons leading the Red Raiders. His two best single-season scoring outputs in Lubbock came in 2015 and 2016, the only two full seasons in which Mahomes was the starter.
While Kingsbury obviously would have loved for Mahomes to return for his senior year, he was still an asset to the Chiefs while the team was evaluating how good a quarterback prospect Mahomes would be. Head coach Andy Reid remembers Kingsbury’s words, sharing them with reporters after practice on Wednesday.
“Kliff is a tremendous guy,” Reid began. “He loved Patrick, he could tell he’d be a great professional football player — even though the offense was different — but you see that his offense has been very successful and you’ve seen Patrick be very successful.
“He was great with it. And I respect his input. It was one of the reasons we went after Patrick as hard as we did.”
Reid’s respect for Kingsbury is topped only by that shown by Mahomes, who naturally grew into a close relationship with his college head coach. While we tend to give Reid credit for Mahomes’ development, the quarterback reminded us on Wednesday that Kingsbury also played a huge role.
“It’s someone that has taught me a ton,” Mahomes told reporters. “Not only about football, but about life. He got me out of high school, where I was a baseball player trying to play football, basically trying to be on my own... he helped me become who I am today.”
Kingsbury was one of the first to believe in Mahomes as a quarterback, taking a chance on him when few colleges were willing to do so.
“They were really the first and only,” Mahomes said of Texas Tech. “I didn’t get recruited by [many schools]; I got a couple other offers from smaller schools in the Texas area... I credit Kingsbury, because he was the one who came down and saw me, talked to me, talked to my family and believed in me. That’s the reason I’m in this position — because he gave me a chance.”
One of the things the quarterback respects the most about Kingsbury is his decision to allow Mahomes to continue the style of quarterback play that he had always had, respecting his tools as a prospect rather than suppressing them with too much coaching.
“I think he was early in the game of saying ‘let’s maximize your strengths,’” said Mahomes. “He would teach me how to be more mechanical in the pocket and with the fundamentals of the game, but he never restricted who I was — and that’s amplified with Coach Reid now. I could’ve went somewhere and they could’ve made me this pocket quarterback, but he let me be who I was on (and off) the field — and it helped me become the player I am.”
Kingsbury’s words to Mahomes as he left for the NFL Draft still stick with the quarterback today, fueling him to continually get better.
“I think the biggest piece of advice he gave me was to ‘be all-in either way’ — whether that was coming back to Texas Tech [to] win a Big 12 championship [and] make my draft grade go higher, or make that step and go to the NFL; give everything I have. That’s what I got from a lot of people around me, and it all worked out. I was projected a second or third-round pick, [so I] did everything I could at the combine training, then got to the Chiefs and kept that same mentality — and it’s helped me become the player I am.”
With that mentorship comes a friendly competitiveness — and Mahomes doesn’t shy away from it. Because the Chiefs and Cardinals are in different conferences, Mahomes knows he won’t get many more chances to play against Kingsbury’s team.
“It’ll be cool to play against him,” he noted. “Hopefully, I’ll get the win because you’ll have those bragging rights,” Mahomes acknowledged. “I see him every once in a while during the offseason, out in Lubbock. It’s definitely going to be an awesome moment that we’ll have forever.”
Mahomes laughed at the idea that his history with Kingsbury will give his former head coach an advantage in Sunday’s game.
“I’m sure he has a few tricks from our college days,” he admitted, “but I feel like I’ve grown a lot since I’ve been in the NFL. I’m sure he has a good idea of who I am, but it’s a hard offense to stop altogether — and I think that’s what makes this offense so great.”
So if Mahomes has a big game on Sunday, you can thank the opposing team’s head coach for playing a part in making that happen. It’s likely to be one of the few times Kingsbury will ever regret taking a chance on the gunslinger from Whitehouse, Texas.