Former Northwestern star Mike Kafka presides over Patrick Mahomes

Mike Kafka wasn’t an NFL standout — he only threw 16 passes — but he’s in charge of the most dynamic quarterback of his generation.

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Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, back right, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes watch backup Chad Henne warm up last month.

Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, back right, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes watch backup Chad Henne warm up last month.

David Eulitt/Getty Images

Mike Kafka needed just one more week on an NFL roster.

The Buccaneers promoted him when quarterback Josh McCown hurt his thumb in 2014. McCown returned one week shy of Kafka gaining enough tenure to become a vested veteran, which would entitle him to pension, insurance and other benefits after playing.

Kafka — a St. Rita and Northwestern alum — mentioned the timeline to McCown as the game approached. The veteran bolted upstairs to talk to head coach Lovie Smith.

“He came back maybe 25 minutes later and said, ‘It’s done—you’re in …’” Kafka said this week. “That was one of the biggest things for me, as far as a player, to be able to get that vested tag— not just for myself but for my family.”

The Bucs waived him the next week.

Kafka wasn’t an NFL standout—he only threw 16 passes— but he’s in charge of the most dynamic quarterback of his generation: Patrick Mahomes.

He was the Chiefs’ offensive quality control coach in 2017 before being promoted to quarterbacks coach. The Chiefs gave him the added title of pass-game coordinator this season.

“He came in at the same time as I came into this locker room,” Mahomes said. “Even before he came in as quarterbacks coach, he already had a big imprint on what I did in developing me to be the player that I am. He continues that. He stays on me.”

Eventually, Kafka figures to be a trendy name for a play-calling job, or even a head coach. That discussion remains complicated, though, so long as his boss, coordinator Eric Bieniemy, remains shut out of head coaching jobs.

“When that opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready,” Kafka said.

He gave credit to his stops in the Chicago area— first at St. Rita, which he called “one of the best decisions I made as a young adult.” Deciding to stay close at play for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald — where he starred as a senior in 2009— just felt comfortable.

“I thought the program at St. Rita and the program at Northwestern were very similar,” he said. “[They] fit into who i was a person and who i wanted to be as a man.”

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