Utah Blaze Offensive Coordinator Tony Kimbrough No Stranger To Change
SALT LAKE CITY - Tony Kimbrough, the first-year Utah Blaze offensive coordinator, has been faced with a lot of challenges in his life, so to face a vaunted defense isn't extremely onerous to him.
Kimbrough grew up in the inner-city of Detroit, Mich., where many of his peers chose lives of crime, but Kimbrough decided to go a different direction by getting involved in sports.
"It's amazing. I had friends that were into other things like drugs and stealing, so I hung out with a crowd much younger than myself," he said. "I was a leader from Day 1, playing [sports] in the streets."
A multifarious athlete, Kimbrough played not only football, but basketball and baseball as well. He was an all-state pitcher in baseball, leading his team to two city championships, however, his passion was football and he had visions of becoming the next Lynn Swann.
"I grew up admiring Lynn Swann, I wore '88' in everything, I would mark with a pen '88' on any white T-shirt and I thought I was going to be Lynn Swann," he said. "I really went to high school and joined the team to be a receiver."
So when he entered his freshman year of high school he made the junior varsity team as a wide receiver, but fate had other ideas for him. He recalls his coach having an open quarterback competition after the first game of the season due to the sub-par play at the position, and sure enough Kimbrough found his knack in football.
"I was the second or third guy in line and I threw the ball about 70 yards and he stopped the try-outs right there. From that day on, I was a quarterback," said Kimbrough, who started at quarterback for his varsity high school football team from 10th grade on.
After high school he enrolled at Winston-Salem State University on a full-ride athletic scholarship, nevertheless, after one semester and an unsatisfying redshirt freshman year Kimbrough suspended his football career. He decided to join the Marines, where after completing basic training as a radio field operator in California, he returned to Detroit for reserve duty.
"I needed to grow up. I was very immature, a very undisciplined person," he said. "It really got my career going in the right direction, that discipline today is still instilled in me. That was a great time of my life."
Once his life got back in order, he returned to the game he loved by attending Grand Rapids Junior College. There he excelled for two seasons and was named a NJCAA-All-American, which led him to a scholarship at Western Michigan University.
He found success at Western Michigan leading the Broncos to a 9-3 season and a 1988 MAC Championship. Nostalgia still fills his life for that year and he recently returned to Kalamazoo, Mich., for a 20-year reunion.
"That was the best football of my life," said Kimbrough, the 1988 Mid-American Conference Most Valuable Player. "We were family man, and I see why we won the championship 20 years later because of the relationships we still have to this day."
After what had been a fairly stable lifestyle living in Michigan for most of the first quarter century of his life, the last 20 years have been near opposite. He's played football for teams ranging from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Charlotte, N.C., as well as coached in places from New York City to San Jose, Calif.
After little consideration from the NFL, his professional career began in the Canadian Football League, where he played four seasons, two with the Ottawa RoughRiders and two with the BC (British Columbia) Lions. Unfortunately for Kimbrough, he backed up arguably two of the greatest CFL quarterbacks ever in Damon Allen-brother of NFL superstar Marcus Allen-who threw for 72,381 yards (more than any player ever), and then football legend Doug Flutie.
From there he made the transition to the Arena Football League. He spent two years with Charlotte (1993-1994), two years with San Jose (1995-1996) and one year with Buffalo (1999).
At the conclusion of his 1996 season with the San Jose SaberCats, Kimbrough's body began wearing down and he needed surgery for his right ankle. He didn't see his career at an end and still wanted to play, but instead of lethargically sitting out for the 1997 season he chose to help out as the SaberCats' QB coach.
"I knew I saw myself becoming a coach one day, and that was an opportunity for me to stay involved and get my feet wet as far as the coaching side," he said.
Making it back to playing condition wasn't easy after his initial ankle surgery. Before returning to play for Buffalo in 1999, Kimbrough recalls having five or six more ankle surgeries.
"Football is brutal, man," said Kimbrough, who has totaled 14 surgeries on his ankles since 1996.
After a year as the Buffalo Destroyers' quarterback in 1999, Kimbrough began his coaching career full-time in 2001 as the Destroyers' offensive coordinator. From there his coaching career took him back to his alma mater Western Michigan where he was the tight ends coach in 2003 and 2004. Again he rejoined the AFL as the New York Dragons offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2007.
He now finds himself in Utah, yet despite losing a starting quarterback and implementing a new offense, Kimbrough is optimistic of the season ahead.
"With those two guys (Aaron Boone and Huey Whittaker) you already have a good foundation to be able to do the same things as last year," he said.
"I want [to have] a balanced attack, to keep the defense guessing, and be able to be diverse in every part of the game."
Kimbrough loves his job as a coach in the AFL, but hopes one day his itinerant lifestyle will lead him to something that has always been a dream.
"My ultimate goal is to someday coach in the NFL as a position coach or a quarterback coach and learn what I need to learn there. Then hopefully someday [I will] have the opportunity to become an offensive coordinator," he said.
As for now though, Kimbrough is content here in Utah. In his spare time you can find him playing golf, which he recently picked up, or watching movies and soap operas.
"I don't have any problem telling people that [I watch soap operas]," says Kimbrough, a religious viewer of The Bold and The Beautiful and The Young and The Restless. "I'm very secure in my manhood."
Although his time has been brief so far here in Utah he has enjoyed it very much.
"In my career I have been everywhere [and] in this short time this is one of the best places I have ever been," he said. "It's so peaceful...to wake up and walk outside to see the mountains it's a great, great setting."
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