Why Gary Kubiak is the true key to Broncos success

Former head coach needs to stay in Denver for a return to winning football

Gary Kubiak at Denver's Super Bowl parade in 2016. Credit: Jon Bonvouloir

Broncos Country is at its wit’s end right now. For the third year in a row, the Broncos will miss the playoffs. Their Super Bowl 50 victory now feels like a long time ago. 

Everyone is trying to blame someone for the struggles the team has experienced the past two seasons.

After going 11-19 so far in the last two seasons, nobody knows if the Broncos are one good quarterback, one competent coach, or one complete front-office overhaul away from getting back to the playoffs.

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Colorado Springs Gazette writer Woody Paige revealed Monday that the Broncos could have had a different coach and quarterback in 2018.

Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway had to “sleep on” whether to retain Vance Joseph after a disappointing 2017 season.

Meanwhile, Paige reported Elway had serious discussions with former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan about coming back to Denver, bringing with him quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Broncos mouthpiece Mike Klis was quick to debunk the Cousins rumors hours later.

Cousins, the top free agent in 2018 after Washington’s decision to move on from him, was drafted by Shanahan in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft and surpassed Robert Griffin III to become the starter. 

Team president and CEO Joe Ellis shot down Elway’s idea due to personal issues Ellis and Shanahan have with each other.

So current head coach Joseph got a reprieve and the chance to go again.

Despite Klis also trying to spin that Joseph was dealt a “tough hand” in 2018, the reality is the team got an upgrade at quarterback after the Broncos signed free agent Case Keenum, who led Minnesota to the NFC Championship game in 2017, and a retooled offense after a superb draft class yielded four talented skill players.

After another season out of the playoffs and the possibility of back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972, it feels as though Joseph will not get any more chances.

There might be two games of the 2018 season remaining, but wide speculation started weeks ago as to who should come in as the 17th head coach of the Denver Broncos.

But pay close attention to Kubiak.

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He currently serves as the Broncos’ senior personnel advisor and has expressed some interest in returning to the sidelines but not as a head coach.

Given his well-documented health problems, it isn’t a surprise that Kubiak might not want to take the big job, but he will be coveted across the NFL if he wants to return as a coordinator.

Whatever capacity he serves in though, the Broncos should work hard to retain his services.

Shanahan was a very successful coach in the NFL but his most successful seasons came with Kubiak at his side.

When Shanahan served as offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 1992 to 1994 he had his most successful season in 1994 when Kubiak served as quarterbacks coach and they won Super Bowl XXIX.

The Broncos hired Shanahan as head coach in 1995, and he brought Kubiak with him as offensive coordinator.

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In their first four years together in Denver, Shanahan and Kubiak would make the playoffs three times and win back-to-back Super Bowls. They would go on to make the playoffs four more times through the 2006 season, with only one losing season during an 11-year span.

Kubiak would then go on to become head coach of the Houston Texans.

Shanahan would only make the playoffs one more time, then as the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2012, while Kubiak took over the four-year-old Houston franchise and brought it into relevancy.

Before Kubiak, the Texans had no winning seasons.

In eight seasons as the Texans head coach, Kubiak led the team to a .500 or better record six times, going to the playoffs twice.

Due to health reasons, Kubiak was unable to finish out the 2013 season with Houston and was relieved of his duties.

The following year Kubiak would become the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, a year in which quarterback Joe Flacco — who is expected to leave Baltimore in 2018 — would experience his best statistical season, and would almost beat the Patriots in Foxborough during the AFC playoffs.

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After the 2014 season, Elway offered Kubiak his “dream job” of coaching the Denver Broncos.

During Kubiak’s first year as head coach, the Broncos would win Super Bowl 50 with a dominant defense making up for some underwhelming offensive play.

In 2016 — with Peyton Manning retired — Kubiak had to use unproven young quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, and the Broncos would still finish the season with a winning record of 9-7 but barely miss the playoffs.

As a comparison, current head coach Vance Joseph went 5-11 with almost the same roster in 2017.

Kubiak would officially retire from head coaching after the 2016 season due to more health concerns. Six months later he would rejoin the Broncos in an advisory role and would see his role expanded in 2018.

With Kubiak helping evaluate college draft prospects before the 2018 NFL draft, the Broncos were able to change their approach and bring in players that have made immediate impacts on the team.

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Kubiak’s influence provided hope for the future after so many failed drafts in the general manager Elway era with a foundation the Broncos can build on in future years.

If the Broncos want to continue to improve and eventually make it back to the playoffs and Super Bowl, they need to keep Kubiak around.

He has had a hand in the success of several franchises and doesn’t need to be at the forefront to have a large influence. He can operate in the shadows to maintain his health while still being a leader to those in the spotlight.

Whether he returns to coaching as a coordinator or stays in a front-office role, his expertise is needed to keep this franchise moving in the right direction.

The Broncos have won three Super Bowls. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Kubiak has been on the sidelines each time; twice as offensive coordinator and once as the head coach.

About Kade Rucker 21 Articles
Kade is one of our local contributors, offering opinions on all things Broncos from Parker, Colorado.

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