During an interview with The Baltimore Sun in August of 2014, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway spoke so glowingly of Gary Kubiak that he was afraid the NFL would levy a tampering charge against him.
But in that 30-minute interview, it was easy to conclude that if the Broncos needed a head coach, Elway would pursue Kubiak. Nearly five months later, Kubiak became the top Bronco, and Denver is preparing to play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 next Sunday.
It's hard to predict how front office marriages with the head coach will work out, but if you were around Kubiak for the 2014 season when he was the Ravens offensive coordinator, you knew it was only a matter of time before he would be near the top of his profession again.
It was reminiscent of Bill Belichick when he was the Cleveland Browns head coach from 1991 through 1995. Like Belichick, Kubiak had little success in his first stint as a head coach, with the Houston Texans from 2006 to 2013. But both were too detailed-oriented, too driven to fail a second time.
Kubiak doesn't have the stoic demeanor of Belichick, but he exudes the same confidence and no non-sense approach to the game. He allowed Wade Phillips to run his defense this season and at the same time handled superstar quarterback Peyton Manning well enough to keep control of his team.
Kubiak, 54, doesn't just have a style, but a system. When Denver fans booed the Broncos this season because of an inconsistent running game and few explosive plays, Kubiak kept pounding away and allowed his top-ranked defense to win games.
He still doesn't appear to sweat much.
"He is a system guy," said Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "He believes in who he is and what he is teaching. He isn't going to deviate from his philosophy. That offense just goes on and on. He gets a running back, plugs him in and off he goes."
You saw that here with the Ravens, and his presence was immediate on Day 1. Kubiak didn't just coach and pop in and out of the huddle, but he was an overseer. At times, he would go on the defensive side of the ball 40 yards away from scrimmages just to look at his offense and formations.
There was never a lot of screaming and shouting, but he still had the omnipresence of a head coach. Clearly, the front office and coach John Harbaugh had given him complete autonomy over the offense.
When Kubiak talked, everybody listened. He connected with the players. There are always some players who will speak negatively about an assistant coach in private, but that was never the case with Kubiak.
His coaching expertise showed on the field. In 2014, the Ravens established franchise single-season records in total yards (5,838) and points (409). The Ravens ranked 12th in the league total offense and eighth in rushing.
Like he had done several times in Denver when he was the quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2005, Kubiak turned a no-name running back, Justin Forsett, into a 1,000-yard rusher.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a career year as well, throwing for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns. He completed 344 of 554 passes and had only 12 interceptions, 10 fewer than in 2013.
Kubiak put Flacco in a comfort zone, which hasn't always been easy to do. Flacco never got along with former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and he has a solid, but sometimes strained relationship with current coordinator Marc Trestman.
Kubiak was demanding of Flacco. He was a stickler about mechanics, especially insistent about Flacco planting his back foot before throwing. And it's hard to argue with Kubiak. He has participated in six Super Bowls and has three rings. The list of quarterbacks he has worked with includes Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young and Elway.
In his last couple of seasons in Denver, he had to convince Elway that he didn't need to carry the offense, that the Broncos could win by hitching a ride on the legs of running back Terrell Davis. Denver won back-to-back titles with Elway as the starter in 1997 and 1998.
So if there was a coach who had the credentials to deliver a similar message to Manning this season, it was Kubiak. Denver's offense is a hybrid of Kubiak's West Coast offense and the one Manning used in Indianapolis.
Kubiak got solid production out of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler while Manning was injured, and reinserted Manning when he thought the season was close to coming to and end. Manning has turned into a game manager at this point of his career, but it's not about ego. It's about wins and losses. It's about championships.
That message has gotten across to everyone in the Broncos locker room, which isn't always the case when dealing with an aging superstar. To look at Kubiak's impact on the Broncos, just look at the Ravens.
Trestman didn't have much to work with this season, but the Ravens had no offensive identity and they gave up on the run way too early in some games. Whereas Kubiak had total control, the Ravens again have too many assistants tinkering with the offense.
Kubiak's loss was the biggest of the offseason for the Ravens. He just has that type of presence about him. Some guys are born to lead, some guys are followers.
Kubiak was born to be a head coach and he might end up being one of the best ever when he is done.
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