Last week, the Minnesota Vikings announced they were signing former NFL head coach Gary Kubiak to be an advisor to Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff. How does Kubiak potentially make this team better?
This essay on former Denver coach Gary Kubiak will not be framed or crowded with data from Gary Kubiak’s career as a player or coach.
Suffice to say, Kubiak played the quarterback position at an NFL standard for numerous years and was a highly successful assistant coach for many more. Between 2006 and 2016 he was the head coach of the Houston Texans and the Denver Broncos.
In 2015, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl.
The last point was pretty important. Not in a question of ‘how did he do that?’, but instead, ‘how did it happen?’
Kubiak took a Bronco team with an ailing legend at QB (Peyton Manning), a mediocre backup (Brock Osweiler), two young running backs (Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson), and two Pro Bowl receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders), and paired them with the league’s best defense to win Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers.
In 2015, that Broncos team was hardly better than the Minnesota Vikings at the time, lead by a 23-year-old Teddy Bridgewater. In fact, the Broncos just nipped the Vikings in a Week 4 matchup in Denver on their way to the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs.
So what Gary Kubiak brings to the 2019 Vikings–alongside Mike Zimmer and new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski–is the veteran acumen of a player, coach and executive who has solved countless problems, compensated for a bevy of vulnerabilities, and found enough successful formulas to hoist the Lombardi Trophy over his head.
Another pair of eyes, another mind, another way of thinking. It’s what Mike Zimmer lost in Tony Sparano just as the 2018 season began.
Mike Zimmer may say he knows quite a bit about offense, but he’s speaking in a good part theoretically. He has always relied on other coaches to be the “executive producers” of his team’s offensive designs and execution. It is his purview and jurisdiction to dictate “scheme”, but it’s always been easier said than done.
Kubiak likes to run the ball. He always has. In overseeing over 20,000 NFL snaps as a coach, he’s kept at it in a nearly 50% clip. No doubt Mike Zimmer recognized that, as well as Kubiak’s success from it.
On the other hand, Kubiak is not a defensive-minded coach. That’s why he employed Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator in Denver. Some may say it was Denver’s defense that won Super Bowl 50 and Phillips’ coaching was the reason.
But Wade Phillips has never won a Super Bowl as a head coach and Gary Kubiak has. That’s fodder for the argument why Kubiak will improve not only the Vikings as an offensive advisor, but Mike Zimmer himself as a head coach.
Zimmer himself told the press that losing Sparano was losing a lot before the season started. Certainly to no greater depth could have been the loss of Sparano’s experience in the league.
Kubiak will help Zimmer (and Stefanski) fix problems, compensate for weaknesses and identify strengths. He was the type of coach that Zimmer needed almost every other week in 2018.
He’ll also help the 36-year-old Stefanski understand why the older coaches in the league “stick to the run” so much.
Perhaps it may come from a career in which, as John Elway’s backup as a player, he watched one of the NFL’s most electrifying passer and his team be outscored 136-40 in three humiliating Super Bowls losses, only to coach that same physically diminished but resilient quarterback to consecutive Super wins in 1996 and ‘97, utilizing the league’s most dominating running game.
That’s the kind of guy the Minnesota Vikings and Mike Zimmer need around their draft room, their coaches’ meetings, their practice field and game sideline.