This isn't going to be an exhaustive look at everything Gary has done throughout his carrier, but I'll touch on what I've seen from him in the past and what he's been a part of as a way to build some thoughts on pros and cons he'll bring to the organization. Disclaimer: during his time in Houston I did not watch every game he coached, but I did catch his games when I could as I've always been a big fan of Kubiak's.
I have mixed feelings on his hiring and thought it would be worthwhile to explore those a bit and share with Mile High Report so we can discuss and share as we move into a new era of Denver Broncos football.
Gary Kubiak was our offensive coordinator from 1995 - 2006. 1995-1999 were obviously our team's golden years. During this stretch, he witnessed the growth of a championship team first-hand. Don't overlook this advantage when you form your opinion on his ability to lead our team. I know Elway hasn't.
How many coaches out there have had that kind of look at going from a 7-9 middling team into a powerhouse franchise that was one of the most historic three-year periods in the grand history of the NFL? Gary is certainly a rare breed in this regard and knows what it takes to win a championship. Elway spoke to this in his conference even:
"...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]."
A look inside Kubiak's offensive philosophy
Kubiak, from everything I've seen, is a true systems coach. What I mean by that is that he has become a master of the system he runs, and that is what he uses. The downside to this is that while he does things to add flairs and flavors to his system, I haven't seen a ton of progress or innovation out of what he does.
What I really do LOVE about his system is that he makes his team tough to beat and tough to stop. From everything I've seen he trains his players to execute the plays exactly so as to create advantages for the offense that you don't get when you run a system that is more open and flexible with a varied myriad of responsibilities for each player. This really shows up in the run game and is a very potent weapon.
The other thing I love about the system Gary uses is that it creates favorable situations offensively by using specific formations and personnel and exploits them. For example, if an opponent has a depth issue at corner and are starting their 4th string CB on the left side of their defense, you will see a lot of passes on that side of the field until they are forced to give help. Once the other team adjusts to that, we'll exploit the opening that the defense had to sacrifice to cover that vulnerability ad nauseam.
Running with authority
The system he uses starts first and foremost with zone blocking. For more on the intricacies of how zone blocking works, check out this superb article from MHR University. When this is your bread and butter for running, it gives you a lot of flexibility with your offensive line personnel.
Not hard to adjust Broncos' OL to Kubiak's system
CH74 is ready to talk future O-line, which promises to be interesting in the offseason as the hiring of Gary Kubiak is sure to bring some new attention to our Big Uglies.
Basically for man blocking systems, your line typically requires the larger, more powerful men to be able to enforce their will mano a mano. Zone blocking gets your linemen to move laterally more so the power aspect while still useful isn't nearly as important as good footwork. Look for us to make the most of linemen who were looked over by other teams. Sure we might draft a stud tackle in the early rounds, but there's more value to be had by getting the cast-offs by the majority of the NFL teams who run man blocking schemes.
It is also worth noting that the kind of runners you need for zone blocking schemes shifts a bit in this system. Speed, power, and quickness is still something you want, but not over vision and decision-making. Terrell Davis had the later in spades and was very good at everything else, but not great. C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball both will benefit greatly from this system (it may actually save Montee's career).
Also shout out to Whorfin! Ladies and gentlemen in Broncos Country, welcome to the world of an offense that uses a fullback! We'll make use of a lead blocker who's powerful and is also able to catch out of the backfield. Juwan Thompson is my favorite to make the move to this and be a very powerful weapon for our team.
Kubiak's system typically runs to set up the pass. It does this by using the same formations and running misdirection out of them. The thing Kubiak is famous for in his system is running play action bootleg passes. He really perfected this with Jake Plummer and has had this wrinkle as a staple in his passing system ever since.
Worth noting is this question: Can Manning efficiently run this play? I've heard both sides of the story on this and I honestly don't know. While it is fun to speculate, there's no way to know what's going to come of Manning on a bootleg play until we see him do it in the preseason. I will say that I think this aspect of the playbook is going to be a factor in Manning coming back. When executed properly, this type of play is a potent weapon in today's NFL and if we don't have a QB that can do that, we'll be throwing away a valuable tool.
The passing system here isn't predicated quite as much on timing and perfect throws though. What it does do is have sensible read progressions that QB has to work through and throw to the open guy. The benefit here is that it uses motion, formation, and personnel to make that part easy. The system will create open guys by making the defense play in a mis-match. The only thing that will hold us back here is having a QB that can find it.
That's the part of things that makes me really think Manning will do well. If we can pass protect and get him to hold the ball a little longer and rely on reads instead of timing, he should be able to light up the scoreboard in this system.
The one liability I see on our offense in this switch is Julius Thomas. Can we make it work? Yes. But I don't see it happening. This system requires jock-strap wearing men to play Tight End. The cupcake blocking we've seen from Julius just flat-out doesn't fit. The good thing here is that Julius is going to demand some big money that another silly team will pay him and we won't have to. Thanks for the years as a Bronco, Julius. Don't forget who gave you the chance and made you that money.
Here's where my knowledge of Kubiak gets shaky. I know some Texan fans and will be grilling them for more information this off-season to get more insight on him. But I'll go over what my eye tell me about which we should all take with a grain of salt.
Game day decisions
Don't expect Gary Kubiak to be a big risk-taker on game day. That's not what I've seen from him especially in his head coaching role. He plays to out-execute teams and overpower them without taking big risks. The upside is that his teams usually aren't in bad situations that require you to make that risky play. The downside is, what happened to Green Bay in this year's playoffs is likely a story we could see in the future with Kubiak at the helm: taking field goals when you should be going for it on 4th and short inside the 10.
This is the part I love about Kubiak. He's a natural leader. He coaches with passion and fire that you want in a head coach. You won't see it much on the sideline, but watch the post game stuff. Listen to how players talk about him. It will be chalk full of cliches about running through walls and taking bullets, but look at their eyes. The players that say that believe it.
For his work with the coaches, he's an empowering guy. Especially for the defense, look for him to let his Defensive Coordinator run that side of the house and have Gary's full trust. Gary will get coaches that will work with his vision as a true team to help put the players in the most successful position they can be in to win.
The big question I'm going to search for is development of players. How is Kubiak at that? That's a big bonus we had with John Fox and company. I'd love to get some thoughts from Texan fans on this from this as well.
Why I believe Kubiak will succeed in Denver
Elway said the reason a dozen times already: He knows what it takes and he wants to get us there badly. All that nepotism talk that the Negative Nancy's out there keep bringing up isn't necessarily a bad thing. Kubiak LOVES the Denver Broncos. He loves the Bowlen family. He loves John Elway. That passion I mentioned up above is going to be there every day and at every game. He's not a rental coach. He's a Denver Bronco. Get excited Broncos Country! Our coach is home!