Jan 20, 2015; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak speaks to the media at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
When the Denver Broncos named Gary Kubiak as their new head coach last month, it was a popular hire in most peoples’ minds. I’m sure there are some who were not pleased with the move but overall, the hiring of Kubiak made most fans happy. So I’m not here to defend the move but I am here to tell you why it might have been a great move.
When we think of Bill Belichick today, we think of a coach who has now won four Super Bowls and is considered by many as the best in NFL history. However, his first stint with the Cleveland Brown was less than impressive.
Mike Shanahan was a disaster with the Oakland Raiders but bounced back to win two Super Bowls as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. For about a 10 year period, Shanahan was considered the best in the business.
After building the Jacksonville Jaguars into a contender in the AFC, Tom Coughlin took those lessons to the New York Giants and won two Super Bowls. There are other examples but the point is a simple one, great coaches are not always great in their first job.
Now Kubiak was far from a failure with the Houston Texans. He inherited a 2-14 team and eventually led them to their only two playoff berths in 2011 and 2012. At times in both of those seasons, the Texans were considered the best team in football but were eventually done in by the quarterback play.
Kubiak learned a lot as the head coach of the Texans and will now look to build on those lessons with the Broncos. I’ve followed Kubiak ever since the Broncos drafted him in 1983 and there are a couple of things that jump out at me.
When Kubiak was hired by the Texans, I remember how uncomfortable he looked in front of the media and seemed to be out of his comfort zone. Since taking over the Broncos, Kubiak has been more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. Now maybe that has something to do with the idea that he is back at Dove Valley, and that probably feels like home to him.
Kubiak has always had the knowledge but sometimes the demands of being a head coach take over. You go from just drawing up plays to having to deal with everything and I mean everything. A head coach has media obligations that an assistant coach does not, he has to schedule everything from the offseason workouts to training camp to regular season practices to road trip itineraries.
The head coach also has to meet with the trainer on a daily basis and keep on top of who will be available for any given week, and who won’t be. Kubiak will also meet with John Elway once a week to go over personnel, both for the current season and going forward.
Despite being an offensive guy, Kubiak must connect with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and special team’s coordinator Joe DeCamillis on an on-going basis. It is Kubiak who is ultimately responsible for everything so he must be involved in every aspect. That can be a big adjustment for a guy who is used to burying himself in his office with film and game plans.
That’s not even including the day-to-day nonsense that comes up which can include: dealing with locker room issues, dealing with complaints about what was served for lunch and so on. It may sound like a little thing but you would be surprised at how much time head coaches have to spend dealing with these types of issues. That’s also an adjustment and most handle it much better the second time around.
When Belichick was with the Browns, he tried to deal with everything as it came up. Now he has a drawer of stuff that can be handled in the offseason. Those are the types of things that coaches learn from job one to job two.
Kubiak comes to the Broncos with a better understanding of what the job entails and at least early on, you can see the difference. He is more comfortable in the role and understands that he can’t do everything.
But other coaches get fired and get a second chance, and get fired again. So what’s the difference with Kubiak? It’s simple in my mind, there are few coaches in the NFL who know more than Kubiak especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now that he has an understanding of the other “stuff” that goes along with being a head coach, he will be in a better position to deal with that and let his football knowledge take over.
Belichick did not get smarter when he became the head coach of the New England Patriots, he just was better prepared for the job.
There’s also this; don’t discount the season that Kubiak spent with the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are one of the elite organizations in the NFL and Kubiak got a front row seat. He got to see how Ozzie Newsome prepares for a draft and how John Harbaugh leads a football team. Both of those guys are among the best at what they do, and Kubiak will apply what he learned from both of those men going forward.
There’s no guarantee that Kubiak will win multiple Super Bowls as a second time head coach but the blueprint is there. He learned a lot as head coach of the Texans and will now use those lessons to hopefully lead the Broncos back to the promise land.