Hall of Fame horse--I mean, QB--John Elway and Bears' new head coach John Fox decided to part ways after the 2014 season came to an ugly end, punctuated by Peyton Manning's struggles and Denver's offensive collapse. Elway and Fox experienced friction because, to Elway, four seasons straight of playoff victories isn't enough to keep your job.
In an effort to get to the mountaintop and win another Super Bowl, Elway brought in long-time friend, former backup, and former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Whether Kubiak will have Manning running that offense remains to be seen, but pundits are already effusive in their praise of Kubiak, his management style, and his offensive genius.
Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis began the press conference by commending Elway "for the organized and focused manner in which he went about this process of hiring our next head coach."
In an effort to ensure Broncos fans welcome and accept Kubiak as one of their own, Ellis went on to state:
One thing is clear about Gary Kubiak: he is a Bronco. He understands what this team stands for and the values that have been established under Pat Bowlen. He also knows the passion of Broncos fans and the special relationship that this team has with this city, this community and the entire Rocky Mountain region.
This assertion makes perfect sense, given that Kubiak spent nine years with the franchise as a player and another eleven on the coaching staff.
Coach Kubiak also knows how to win. During his 30 seasons as a player or coach, he's been part of 17 playoff teams. He's won 12 division titles, been on eight conference championship teams, and six Super Bowls he appeared in. He's coached on three World Championship staffs — the 1994 San Francisco 49ers and, of course, the 1997 and 1998 Denver Broncos who won back-to-back Super Bowls. During his 11 years in Denver as the Broncos' offensive coordinator — including four years with John Elway as his quarterback — Coach Kubiak oversaw one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. During that period the Broncos led the NFL in scoring, total yards, rushing yards, and most importantly, wins. Gary established himself during that time as one of the best offensive minds in the league.
That Kubiak is one of the most brilliant offensive guys in the league is something that even the most jaded Texans fans must concede. He's shown, time and time again, that when blessed with players capable of executing his scheme properly, as predictable as it might be, his scheme works.
Broncos' Executive VP and GM John Elway began his comments by remarking on his thirty-year relationship with Kubiak, again promoting Kubiak's Bronco-ness (or is it Bronco-dom?) to the fanbase.
I know his philosophies and I know what he can do. I know his goals are the same as mine and that's to win and to win World Championships. To have that ability to be able to have a guy like Gary that you trust, that I trust, that I respect deeply about his football knowledge and what he can do for this football team, hopefully to take it to that next level — he's got all those qualities. And I think even the most important thing is the quality he does have is he's a Denver Bronco. He knows what Pat Bowlen wants. He knows the expectations that Pat has. He knows the culture of this organization. He knows the culture of this building.
Elway went on to state that Kubiak was always at the top of his wish list. Yet strangely, for a man who allegedly canned Fox for getting in the dance and not winning it all, Elway backed away from guaranteeing a championship with Kubiak at the helm, stating that:
There are a lot of things that have to happen for you once you get into January to be able to win a World Championship. Things have got to fall for you right too. You've got to be playing your best football. But also, there's a piece of that puzzle that is, part of it is you've got to get a little bit lucky. The ball's got to bounce your way to be World Champions.
One thing that may (or may not, as fans' opinions vary) help Kubiak is if Manning returns, but Elway made a point of commending backup QB Brock Osweiler's progress and hard work. The press conference then delved into what kind of voice Kubiak will have in personnel matters (Kubiak will "have a great influence on this team and how we shape this team"), whether Manning still wants to play, Kubiak's need to pay attention to all players on the roster, and his willingness to step in and give speeches to the team when they get tired of hearing the same voice over and over.
Finally, the man of the hour came to the podium. Gary Kubiak began by thanking the Ravens for his time there, his family for their support, and the Broncos family and organization.
Knowing that Broncos' fans are demanding a championship, Kubiak made a point of talking about his hopes to win another one.
I want everybody to understand that I do understand the expectations of this organization and that's why I love it so much. I know that each and every year this team is built — and the job that Joe and John do — it's with one reason and one reason only and that's to win a championship. Fortunately, I was part of that. I was part of the last one. I want to do that again. The thing I do understand in this business is that those things don't just happen — you have to work to make those happen. That's the thing that I'm most comfortable with — I'm comfortable with the work.
Kubiak spoke directly to the players present and told them that he would "be getting in touch with each and every one of you here very quickly. But I want you all to know how proud I am to be a part of this. I know that I have a job to do, but I'm one of you. We're going to do it together and I look forward to it so much."
Of course whichever coach was hired was going to face questions about the QB position and his relationship with Manning. To that end, Kubiak indicated that he'd already spoken to Manning days before the press conference, and that they had texted the night before.
Kubiak is known for having his system, and there were quite a few questions about how Kubiak's system would work with Manning's playing style and insistence on having complete control over the offense. When asked about how it would work, Kubiak appeared to defer to his QB, stating:
That's easy to build a playbook for him. He's been the master at it for many, many years. You talk about a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person. We didn't really get that far. It was just really conversations, really talking about family, there was some conversation about the Pro Bowl, there were some conversations about how he's feeling, those type of things. Really we were just kind of setting the stage so to speak for our time to get together and visit on things. And like I said, just do everything I can to support him. This is his time. This is his time, his decision. I need to be there for him in any way that I can. That's what I plan on doing.
Gary was asked whether he was better head coach in 2015 than he was in taking over the reins in Houston in 2006, and acknowledged how much he learned while coaching in Houston.
Well, no doubt. You learn so much. In Houston, the great thing I was a part of as the head coach in Houston was I was part of a building process. Starting from scratch basically and working our way to becoming a playoff football team. So that is a process which I really enjoyed, and I think I learned a great deal from that standpoint. I learned a lot once we got there. The expectations became created. I probably learned more in my last year, which was my most difficult year, than I maybe did in all those years. You learn from those types of things too.
While Kubiak's man management style was derided by a few vocal members of the Texans' fanbase, he made it clear that he hasn't changed his style.
I think all players are different. I think as a coach, that's the number one challenge you have, finding a way to get the best out of each and every player. There's an old saying, you treat players fairly, you don't treat them all equally. And I think as a coach, I've learned that more and more. You have so many veteran players on your team and then you've got 21-year-old young men who can go out there and help you win the championship too. I think they're all different. Motivation always starts with the head coach but I think one of the things I've learned, you've got great coaches on your staff and you've got to give them a chance to get in front of your team, to be a part of that process on a regular basis. It can't always be about you. And then obviously your football team is motivated from the leadership. That starts at the top, your leaders, your captains and the people that all these guys are looking up to. It's a group effort. It's not all about me. It will start with me but we're going to have to all be involved in that process.
Whether this works in Denver will depend on the leadership present on the Broncos' roster, but DeMarcus Ware and Peyton Manning should be able to provide sufficient motivation to their teammates.
Of course the oft-repeated "Texans said 'no' to Manning when he begged to come" story had to be addressed. Kubiak attempted to clean up the reports, arguing that:
With organizations there are so many things in putting a football team together. It's not about 'yes' on this guy, or 'no.' It's not that easy. The first year that the Houston Texans had found success, we made it to the playoffs that year, won a playoff game, had a very good football team. We struggled keeping our team together at the end of that season. We lost, I want to say somewhere between 10 and 12 quality free agents: (LB) DeMeco Ryans, (LB) Connor (Barwin) — I could sit here and name some guys, so at that time for us we were trying to hang on to a lot of things. ... Those were tough decisions, but the organization, you have to stand up there and do what you think is best but it was not that simple. It did not happen exactly that way.
Gary stated that he was working on putting together a defensive staff, and hoped to have some news on that quickly, but didn't want to jeopardize things by speaking too soon. He also confirmed that the Denny's menu will be in his hands, though his guys (presumably Rick Dennison) will be very involved in play-calling as well. Kubiak did admit that he had learned that, as head coach, he needed to be more available to the other two phases of the game, which should bode well for the Broncos if he's able to balance his love of play-calling with a need to pay attention to special teams and defense.
Of course, Broncos fans seem pleased by their new head coach, and the Broncos media is presently praising Kubiak to the Heavens. We'll see whether the love-in lasts long-term.