LOS ANGELES — He is a shadow of black sweatsuit slipping in and out of USC practice, all but ambiguous except for signature sunglasses perched under a gray bucket hat.
Senior offensive analysts, like anyone on the USC football coaching staff who is not a full-time assistant, are not available to speak to the media. So the world might never hear from Kliff Kingsbury at any point in the Trojans’ fall 2023 season. The gray bucket hat will stay tucked away, buried amid cardinal and gold and the storm of intrigue around Lincoln Riley’s second season.
But Kingsbury was USC’s splashiest personnel hire of the offseason for a reason. He coached Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech. He left as USC’s offensive coordinator after a month in 2019 for the NFL. He coached Kyler Murray with the Arizona Cardinals.
And within just a few weeks during the grind of fall camp, to members of the Trojans’ offense, Kingsbury is no invisible wraith whispering secrets into coaches’ ears from the sideline.
Talk to players, and he sounds like Riley’s on-the-ground offensive right-hand man.
“I like to think of him as the liaison to Coach Riley,” said senior tight end Jude Wolfe, who’s returning healthy after an injury-plagued USC career. “You’re not always going to be able to talk to the head ball coach, offensive coordinator, and having (Kingsbury) in between really helps mediate everything.”
The specific nuances of what Kingsbury has brought to the USC staff are harder to pin down, besides the obvious platitudes: the “NFL pedigree” and “little hints he gives here and there,” as senior running back Austin Jones said.
But from a coaching perspective, according to outside wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons, Kingsbury has been particularly helpful in regard to situational strategy with game and clock management.
“Kinda helps you with your checks and balances, or thought processes of what to call,” Simmons said. “When you use timeouts, and things of that nature – he’s been excellent with that.”
“And obviously, the knowledge he has when working with the quarterbacks,” Simmons continued, “he’s been a great resource for Coach Riley and those guys.”
The most obvious beneficiary of Kingsbury’s services? Caleb Williams, who could be heading into a perfect storm on the heels of a Heisman Trophy-winning season with not but one but two quarterback savants in his corner – both gurus who once coached Mayfield and Murray in earlier years.
When asked about Kingsbury’s impact and role Thursday, Williams murmured in affirmation, delivering an answer similar to Wolfe’s “liaison” remark.
“With him not being a head coach, he’s around us a lot more,” Williams said. “Because Lincoln Riley’s a head coach and he has to do head coach things, and so with Kliff coming in that position … it’s been great because he’s been in many different positions.”
Beyond the schematics – ideas of what worked in the pros, what worked in college – Kingsbury’s a “relationship coach,” Williams said.
“He gives you the real,” Williams said. “And we’ll talk and have good conversations, whether it’s now or down the line, you know, a couple years from now, the way things look out.”
And the way things look out, in a year or two, Kingsbury will have another pro quarterback on his coaching résumé.