The 2019 Cardinals: Coach Kliff Kingsbury, Quarterback Kyler Murray, and the Clap

Quarterback Kyler Murray (left) and Coach Kliff Kingsbury are expected to help the Cardinals improve.
Quarterback Kyler Murray (left) and Coach Kliff Kingsbury are expected to help the Cardinals improve. Jim Louvau

In February 27, I stood on the scales at my doctor’s office. I was just a hair over 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed in at 207 pounds. “You should lose some weight,” the doc told me.

The next day, Kyler Murray stood on the scales at the National Football League rookie combine. He measured 5 feet, 10 1/8 inches tall and weighed 207 pounds. “You’re the No. 1 draft pick,” the experts told him.

They were all right — my doctor and the football prognosticators. I needed to slim down (I’m a svelte 200 now) and Murray was selected as the first player overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

In other words, our home team’s success depends on a quarterback who’s the same size as a short, fat alt-weekly editor and a new head coach who was fired by his college team last year after yet another losing record.

That’s not even the worst news out of Glendale before the 2019 season starts on Sunday, September 8.

The defensive line was decimated when former No. 1 pick Robert Chukwudumebi Nkemdiche reported to training camp out of shape and out of vowels and was cut from the team; then, veteran tackle Darius Philion was accused of threatening a stripper with a gun and was released, too.

All-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson was suspended for six games for using performance enhancing drugs and the other starting cornerback, Robert Alford, will be out for a “significant” period of time with a leg injury suffered in the preseason.

And the Cardinals are having problems with the clap.

(We’ll get to that later.)

click to enlarge Kyler Murray will be the league's shortest starting quarterback. - JIM LOUVAU
Kyler Murray will be the league's shortest starting quarterback.
Jim Louvau

All of this may sound more than vaguely familiar. The 2018 season began with high hopes that a talented rookie quarterback and a first-year head coach could return the Dirty Birds to a playoff perch. Instead, the Cardinals finished with a 3-13 record. Former first-round pick Josh Rosen is the backup quarterback in Miami now; Steve Wilks is the defensive coordinator in Cleveland.

Enter 40-year-old Kliff Kingsbury, the failed college coach with the Hollywood hair and a mystical offense called the Air Raid.

It may be more like a Band-Aid for everything that ails this team.

The plan just requires you to believe that the tiniest QB1 in the league is football’s Harry Potter.

Okay, it’s true that Murray is an athlete like no other. Literally. No player has ever been drafted in the first round by both the NFL and Major League Baseball before. He’s that good. In his only full season as a starter in college, he won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma after passing for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2018.

Still, there was that height thing hanging over his head until he passed the 5-foot, 10-inch barrier, which apparently makes him tall enough for this pro football ride. We’ll see if he can see over his offensive linemen.

There are many more doubters about Kingsbury, who bears a striking resemblance to Ryan Gosling and has as much NFL coaching experience as the Oscar nominee.

click to enlarge Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury jumped to the NFL after a losing record in college. - JIM LOUVAU
Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury jumped to the NFL after a losing record in college.
Jim Louvau

We’re told that Kingsbury is some kind of coaching Dumbledore who will orchestrate this magical offense that no one has seen the likes of before … except it’ll probably be a lot like the offense he used at Texas Tech University, whose football team finished with a 5-7 record last season.

Naturally, there are skeptics. Lots of them.

“Look, this guy (Kingsbury) … everyone talks about this great offense and all that,” said Rex Ryan, who is now an analyst at ESPN after getting fired from his last three NFL coaching jobs. “Yeah, if it’s fantasy football and you want points and yardage, that’s great. How about wins?”

Oakland Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner wasn’t impressed with what he saw from the Cardinals in their preseason game, calling Kingsbury’s offense “pretty-boy football,” according to the Arizona Republic and others.

“When you go against an offense like that, you have to introduce that physicality to them because they don’t want to do that,” Joyner said.

Normally, those would be fighting words in the NFL, but I doubt Kingsbury wants to get his ’do messed. Seriously, I haven’t seen a hair on his head move during the preseason.

Okay, 15-yard penalty for cheap shot.

But he is getting some unfair criticism of another sort. It’s not right to refer to him as Koach Kliff Kingsbury, equating him with the team owners’ perception of the supremacy of white NFL coaches.

Last season, there were a record number of seven African-American head coaches in the league, which has 70 percent black players. Five of those coaches were fired and some quality black assistants and college coaches were overlooked as their replacements in favor of a white guy like Kingsbury with questionable credentials,
Domonique Foxworth, a former NFL player who writes for The Undefeated, said he hopes Kingsbury succeeds.

“But even if the result is good, it doesn’t mean the decision-making process was sound,” Foxworth wrote. “It certainly isn’t fair.”

He doesn’t blame Kingsbury for accepting a job that was virtually gifted to him. Someone else wears that black hat.

“Arizona has made itself a poster child for what not to do,” Foxworth continued. “The Cardinals fired Steve Wilks, their black head coach, after just one season, which no sane person would believe is enough time to fairly evaluate a coach. Meanwhile, they retained their white general manager, Steve Keim, who put together the underachieving team and was arrested over the summer [for extreme DUI].”

Yes, apparently, it’s party central at Cardinals headquarters. Another team exec was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving before the start of this season.

But it was Keim who hired and fired Wilks, drafted and traded Rosen, wasted other high draft picks on the likes of Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter, and Nkemdiche, and signed Philion.

It’s enough to drive fans to drink, too, not that they need any encouragement.

That brings us back to the clap.

click to enlarge Kyler Murray was called for an illegal clap during the preseason. - JIM LOUVAU
Kyler Murray was called for an illegal clap during the preseason.
Jim Louvau

Kingsbury’s mystery offense is run out of the shotgun, which means the quarterback takes the snap a few yards behind the center. Since it’s difficult to hear voice signals called from that far away in a noisy stadium, the quarterback uses his hands to indicate when he wants the balls hiked.

In the second preseason game, Murray was penalized twice for an illegal clap. A former NFL referee said the quarterback was “thrusting.” Seriously.

The next game, Murray kept his hands to himself, but backup quarterback Brett Hundley got slapped for a fake clap. Then, he received a yellow flag for hiking his leg.

Don’t blame me. I just write what’s reported. But all this leads me to believe that it’s going to be a season that doesn’t measure up.
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Stuart Warner was the editor of New Times from 2017 to 2019. He has been a journalist since the stoned ages of 1969, playing a major role on teams that won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is also the author of the biography JOCK: A Coach's Story.