Gary Kubiak's name was on head coach John Harbaugh's initial list of offensive coordinator candidates, but for about 10 days, that was essentially his only connection to the Ravens' vacancy.
Less than two months since he was fired as the head coach of the Houston Texans, Kubiak was eager to get back to coaching but waiting for the right opportunity. Harbaugh was looking for the right fit in finding a successor to Jim Caldwell, a search that had seemingly narrowed to Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
At some point late last week, Harbaugh and Kubiak first spoke about the position. But it wasn't until Sunday night, over the dinner table at Harbaugh's Baltimore County home, that the two concluded that the arrangement could work.
In a surprising turn of events, Harbaugh tabbed Kubiak as his offensive coordinator, breaking a trend of promoting from within and engineering a bold shake-up of his offensive coaching staff. The Ravens also hired Rick Dennison, Kubiak's former offensive assistant with the Denver Broncos and Texans, to serve as the quarterback coach while parting ways with longtime tight ends coach Wade Harman.
“We had a chance to spend a weekend with Coach Kubiak and Coach Dennison and get this done,” said Harbaugh, who estimated that he looked closely at about 30 candidates from the college and pro level after Caldwell departed to become the Detroit Lions' head coach. “For the Ravens, for our coaching staff, for our players, for the organization, for our fans, it's a great day. We've got a chance to build the best offensive staff in the National Football League.”
Harbaugh, who had promoted from within to fill his four previous coordinator vacancies, vowed to “turn over every stone” in hiring a coach to lead a struggling offense. His search took 13 days and ended with the hiring of a well-respected offensive mind and quarterback guru who has three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.
Before spending parts of eight seasons as the head coach of the Texans, Kubiak served as the quarterbacks coach for Steve Young and the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. He then moved on to Denver, where he was the offensive coordinator for 11 seasons. During his tenure with the Broncos, the team averaged NFL bests in yards (365.0) and points per game (25.2), and won two Super Bowls.
With the Texans, Kubiak's offense finished in the top 10 in the NFL in four of the past six years.
“I have great respect for the organization — obviously, playing them many times, but it gets down to John,” said Kubiak, who played nine years in the NFL as a backup quarterback. “We had some great conversations over the course of the last couple of days. For me, I'm excited about getting back in the meeting room and teaching. I'm very fortunate to be a part of this great National Football League for many years, and it gives me a chance to be part of a championship organization and to work with a great, young quarterback. But I believe in John and how he does things, how he runs his football team, his coaching staff, what he stands for.”
Kubiak, 52, was fired in early December with the Texans — a popular preseason Super Bowl pick — having lost 11 of their first 13 games. He went 62-64 at the helm of the Texans and led them to the playoffs twice. A little more than a month before his dismissal, Kubiak suffered a transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke,” during a Nov. 3 game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Kubiak, who interviewed for the Lions' head coaching vacancy, said he started to feel like himself again late last season. He called Monday, during which he slipped on a black Ravens pullover before the news conference, the “best day I've had in two months.”
“As [Harbaugh] continued to talk about what he wanted, that's what I want to be a part of,” Kubiak said. “I just want to win and be successful in this league and enjoy coaching, enjoy teaching. So I'm just glad things worked out.”
Dennison, a 20-year coaching veteran who has served as offensive coordinator of the Broncos (2006-08) and Texans (2010-13), had spoken to Harbaugh early in the process about a potential position. But only in recent days did the idea of pairing him with Kubiak as offensive coaches gain traction with the Ravens. Kubiak conceded that he first spoke to Harbaugh only in “the last few days.”
In an interview with the team's official website last week, Harbaugh mentioned Hostler, Shanahan, former Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Pittsburgh Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson as some of his top candidates for the position.
But Linehan didn't get a second interview, and Wilson was informed on Saturday that the Ravens were prepared to go in another direction. According to multiple sources, that direction was either Hostler or Shanahan. Hostler, Harbaugh's wide receivers coach for the entirety of his tenure, was perceived as the favorite because of his close relationship with Flacco and his success grooming some of the organization's young receivers.
However, the plan apparently changed at some point over the weekend, leading to Kubiak and Dennison's trip into Baltimore. Harbaugh acknowledged that he spoke to owner Steve Bisciotti about the decision, but he denied that the hiring was ordered from the top.
“Of course, Gary Kubiak was on the list from the beginning, but within the last week, it became apparent that this had a chance to be a fit for both coach and for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said.
Kubiak and Dennison, who were teammates on the Broncos, are now tasked with fixing an offense that finished 29th in the NFL in yards per game and 25th in points. Joe Flacco threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions and didn't resemble the quarterback who threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during the Ravens' stunning Super Bowl run last season. The running game also finished last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.1) and had the lowest output in franchise history.
Kubiak said everything would start with “being physical, regardless of which position you play.” He acknowledged that he already had spoken to Flacco and that he looked forward to sitting down with him to discuss the direction of the offense. Kubiak will be Flacco's third offensive coordinator in the past 13 months, and Dennison will be his fourth quarterback coach in his six NFL seasons.
“It's our job to find the things that Joe is comfortable with and to make him as successful as we possibly can,” Kubiak said. “He's a championship quarterback, and that's all you can ask for as a coach in this league.”
As he went through the interview process and reviewed Kubiak and Dennison's candidacy, Harbaugh said the Texans' offense in past seasons “looks, in a lot of ways, like we want to look.”
“We talked about this, too,” Harbaugh said. “It's not going to be the Texans' offense or the Broncos' offense or anybody else's offense. It's going to be the Ravens'. It's going to look like Baltimore wants it to look. It's going to be rugged, it's going to be rough, it's going to be tough, physical, downhill, precise — passing game and running game. That's what we are looking to become.”