The Denver Broncos made it official on Tuesday afternoon -- Gary Kubiak is back as a head coach in the NFL, taking the reins of a franchise that won two Super Bowls in the late '90s (with Kubiak as part of Mike Shanahan's staff) and is on a streak of four consecutive division titles in the AFC West.
On the grand scale of "failing upward," it's probably not anywhere close to, say, Lane Kiffin, who parlayed getting fired after two seasons with the Raiders into one 7-6 season at the University of Tennessee, and then parlayed that into the USC job. But with a career record of 61-64 as a head coach, and only two playoff wins (both over a team quarterbacked by Andy Dalton, who has no playoff wins), Kubiak has to feel fortunate not only to get a second chance, but to get a second chance with one of the best organizations in football.
Kubiak met with the media on Tuesday, and there were certainly some nuggets to come out of that session, some from Kubiak and some from others, that should have made Texans fans' ears perk up a bit.
Let's examine a few of these...
(Comments from the presser are in italics, my comments are preceded by "SP:".)
JOE ELLIS, Broncos CEO
"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."
SP: I think this is my favorite misconception in sports -- "so-and-so was part of a winning team, therefore he/she 'KNOWS HOW TO WIN.'" The other flavor of this that Kubiak was showered in over the weekend was "He knows what it takes to get to a Super Bowl." If there was some secret to winning and/or getting to a Super Bowl that Gary Kubiak knew how to magically deploy because of his years spent along for the ride with Shanahan and Elway, then Houston should be outraged that he didn't deploy these tactics during his time in Houston. Here, he figured out how to win 61 times. Unfortunately, he couldn't crack the code 64 other times. "Knows how to win." Honestly, get the fuck out of here with that empty press conference-speak. Seriously.
"He took over a 2-14 team and built it into a perennial playoff contender..."
SP: Gary Kubiak was .500 or below in five of his eight seasons with the Texans, made the playoff twice in eight seasons, never made it out of the divisional round and left the team in the exact same state he found it...with two wins. Ellis's definition of "perennial" is suspect.
JOHN ELWAY, General Manager and Executive Vice President
"I know [Gary's] goals are the same as mine and that's to win and to win World Championships..."
SP: Still waiting for the one team whose goal is not to win a World Championship....
"And I think even the most important thing is the quality he does have is he's a Denver Bronco."
SP: And now the influx of people to Houston -- players, coaches, personnel people, ball boys, cafeteria workers -- with the words "Denver Broncos" on their résumés over the last decade becomes clearer. The most important thing is that Kubiak is a Denver Bronco. Not that he's shown suspect abilities to win as a head coach, evaluate talent, make hard decisions and contract a roster. He's a Bronco. Okay then. Your team, your process.
ELWAY, on what makes him confident Kubiak can get the Broncos to the "next level":
"I think talking about getting to the next level, and I think Gary said it, we've got to get through the first business, get ourselves in position to have that chance. Now, is it going to work out every time? No, it's not going to work out every time. We'd like to say it is, but 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. So sure, I know that's part of what it is. But the reason I know is Gary's been there. Gary's done it, he's seen it. He understands, he's been there; he's won a World Championship with Mike (Shanahan). And so he's seen it. He's been with the Baltimore Ravens, who have won several World Championships. He's seen how they do it."
SP: Blah, blee, blah, blee......He saw others do it, therefore, he can do it. Even though, for eight years, he never came close.
ELWAY on talking to Manning about returning and about the coaching search:
"So I want to emphasize that yeah, sure, we do want Peyton's input -- and I do understand Peyton's side of it, what he wants to do and all that -- but also, there are 52 other guys on this roster and ten guys on the practice squad and now guys we signed to future contracts. Those guys are really, really important, too, and I think this whole organization's important."
SP: I'm sure Peyton loved being equated to a long snapper and some dude on a futures contract.
GARY KUBIAK, Head Coach
KUBIAK on taking over a team with high expectations:
"That's what I want to be a part of; I want to be a part of expectations. I was a part of that the whole time I was here; I was a part of that this past year in Baltimore. That's one of the reasons I went to Baltimore. I know how much they put into winning each and every year and the expectations that were there. I was a part of Houston establishing some expectations."
SP: Okay, I NEED to know what that last part meant. "Establishing some expectations." I must know. MUST. Dammit, why did this press conference not have Houston representation? I'm not ready to turn the page on the failed Kubiak era here yet, dammit!!
KUBIAK on what his vision is in taking this team to the next level:
"First off, it's a great football team. A great football team that's done a lot of great things. You have to put yourself in a position, the next level is winning the Super Bowl, and every year there are teams that make their way to the playoffs, have opportunities but don't quite get there. We always talk about the next step, but you have to make sure that you're positioning yourself all the time to taking that next step. I know the job that John does in putting the team together and the players that he surrounds the coaches with will continually give yourself the opportunity to do that. So you get yourself in that position and it's always important that you're at your best once you get to January. and it's been proven year in and year out, it's not how you get there, it's once you get there how you're playing. We've got to go to work in getting there and playing our best at that time."
SP: TRANSLATION: I have no idea what I'm going to do differently to get this team to the next level....
KUBIAK on his philosophy of motivating players:
"I think all players are different. I think as a coach, that's the No. 1 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."
SP: Somewhere, Matt Schaub sits on a pile of money, laughing at his television screen, chugging a glass of milk and cackling as he lights a cigar (then coughs as he accidentally inhales the smoke on his first puff).
KUBIAK on whether Elway used pressure tactics to get him to accept the job:
"Actually, the contract took about five minutes, I think, so that didn't take long. It was very enjoyable for me. We got together Sunday afternoon, the games were on TV and we were talking, just talking football, talking philosophy, talking organization. It was just very comfortable for me. (Director of Player Personnel) Matt (Russell) was there, (Director of Pro Personnel) Tom (Heckert) was there, a great group of people. So it was very comfortable for me. It was a great afternoon and before I knew it, I turned around and it was eight or nine o'clock at night."
SP: Sounds like a rigorous interview process... "Rhonda, bring us some more guacamole dip, would ya?"
KUBIAK on Manning being available as a free agent when he was head coach of the Texans:
"First off, I don't think that's been addressed correctly, so I'm looking forward to addressing that myself. 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 ten 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 onto a lot of things..."
SP: You traded DeMeco, and Connor was a free agent after 2012, not 2011...but really, continue...
"There were some things leaving the building and not coming in, so you have to make decisions for your team and your organization and trying to stay competitive, stay in the moment, and we were able to do that. We were able to come back the next year; we had a really good football team, won 12 games and were in the thick of it there at the end again. 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."
SP: What "way"? You just confirmed it, Kubes...Peyton Manning was indeed available, and you didn't think it was the best fit for the team. You thought Matt Schaub was at that time. (This is where Kubiak apologists will bring up "cap space," and I think that's what Kubiak is alluding to here...I think. Um, it's Peyton Manning. You make the space.)
KUBIAK on how he can make sure his players play well in big games:
"First off, I have tremendous respect for John and his staff and the job that they did here. They did a tremendous job. I think it kind of goes with the question that you asked me awhile ago, that goes with expectations. Like I told you before, I'm okay with that. Things happen in this business for various reasons, one way or another. When I got my first start as a head coach, I was hoping that maybe I would be one of those guys that would never get fired or never get let go. I think we all understand it's part of our game, it's part of our things that happen. We understand that and we move on and keep battling. Like I said, I think that goes back to expectations. I understand the expectations. I have tremendous respect for what has happened here in the past and what has happened here in the past just recently. But we'll keep battling. We have to get ourselves in that position again as a football team and then when we get there, we've got to be at our best. So that's what we'll go to work on. But now we can only have a good OTAs and we've got to stay focused on those things. We need to crush every day as an organization and get the most out of each day. We will stay focused on the moment."
SP: TRANSLATION: I have no idea how to get them to play better in big games.
KUBIAK on if he will call offensive plays:
"Obviously that's something I've been doing my whole career. I love it. That's where my competitive juices flow, calling the game, those types of things. At the same time, my expectations are to have some people around me that I'm very, very comfortable with calling games, that I've worked with before. So if things work out, I think those guys would be very much involved, too. One of the things I've learned as a head coach is I need to be much more available from that standpoint throughout the whole football team. Sometimes being a playcaller, you may get a little tunnel vision in one ear. I can't do that again. But will I be involved with that? Yes, I'd love to do that."
SP: TRANSLATION: Sorry, Rico.
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