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Armando Salguero: Unwrapping The Curious Situation Of Kliff Kingsbury Not Denying Interest In College Jobs

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Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingbury doesn’t really want to leave the playoff caliber team he’s helped build to become the head coach at Oklahoma or even Notre Dame, no matter how many direct questions he declines to answer or sources who tie him to the jobs.

Let’s agree on that and we’ll be on the right track with the curious scenario that started unfolding in Paradise Valley on Monday.

Let’s also agree Kingsbury is a businessman. He’s in the business of coaching football players first. And he’s in the business of Kliff Kingsbury second.

And as he’s doing an outstanding job with his first business. It’s quite evident Kingsbury has elected or been advised to take advantage of circumstances with college openings to help his second business.

Kingsbury, you see, is an NFL coach of the year candidate who is among the lower paid coaches in the league. Some estimates have his salary range in the $5 million per year range.

New England coach Bill Belichick, the NFL’s highest paid coach, is estimated to make between $15-$17 million per season.

So Kingsbury, whose team has the NFL’s best record right now, is logically in line for a significant raise or extension after the season is over, assuming the Cardinals continue their current course.

The perceived interest from colleges — suddenly a story based on multiple reports by ESPN — added another layer to Kingsbury’s case for getting a raise. The best time to get a raise from your current employer, after all, is precisely when you’re producing at a high level and someone else wants to hire you away.

That’s why it shouldn’t surprise anyone Kingsbury declined to deny possible interest in another job on Monday.

He’s indirectly negotiating with the Arizona Cardinals, and it would be unwise to hurt his own leverage by saying he has no interest in another post.

That’s what all this is about now, folks.

A negotiation.

Kingsbury signed a four-year contract with the Cardinals when he took the job in 2019. So he’s under contract through the 2022 season. What’s more, that contract reportedly has an option year the team can exercise to keep Kingsbury through 2023.

Kingsbury’s representation recently approached the Cardinals about reworking the deal so as to rise to the level befitting a coach whose team is currently slated as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NFC playoffs.

And that attempt, according to a league source, didn’t yield fruit.

Following that, coincidently, the Oklahoma and even potential Notre Dame interest becomes a thing. Yeah, curious.

Kingsbury, you should know, is in a great position because in not denying interest in another job, he actually showed laser-focus interest in his current job.

“I don’t get into those things,” he told reporters on a Zoom call. “My sole focus the last couple weeks has been the Chicago Bears. After watching them on Thanksgiving, it needs to be because they’re a really good football team and had a big win. So that’s where my focus has been.”

Pressed as to why he wouldn’t say he had no interest in a college job — as Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin said earlier this year — Kingsbury had a perfect answer.

“We’re in-season,” he said. “We’re 9-2. Just not a topic I want to touch on right now.”

Well played.

Kingsbury is showing the Cardinals unwavering loyalty while also leaving the door open for leaving the Cardinals for a better contract. It’s a perfect position to be in if he wants an extension.

This is the bottom line: It’s possible some college program comes calling on the former college coach and makes him an offer that trumps his current contract. And Kingsbury would be advised by his representatives to consider it.

But if the Cardinals give him an extension that improves his current deal and keeps him in Arizona, that’s where Kingsbury would rather be, doing the job he’d rather have.

Everything in between is merely a negotiation.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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