Gary Kubiak likes to joke that when the tattered notebook he has been carrying around since his first coaching gig at Texas A&M in 1992 falls apart, he’ll be done coaching.
That 24-year-old notebook tore this morning.
“Maybe that was a sign,” said the former Broncos backup quarterback during his final presser as the Broncos head coach.
More likely the book was a symbol.
After a lot of wear and tear, it’s time to move on.
“Coaching is a very demanding business, a tough business,” Kubiak said. “I’ve always taken a lot of pride that I could coach a football team, be there for the players, be there for the coaches, be there for the organization, do a game plan, call some plays on Sunday…This year I haven’t been able to do that. It’s been tough.”
Kubiak suffered a health scare in 2013 when as then-Texans head coach he collapsed before leaving the field at halftime. The diagnosis was a ministroke – a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain caused by a clot. Earlier this season, Kubiak was hospitalized after suffering a “complex migraine” following the loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and he spent the next week in the hospital, missing the Thursday night game against San Diego.
“For the first time, I’ve had to tell myself, ‘hey, you can’t do that no more,’” Kubiak acknowledged, adding that he’s tried to back off. “But the bottom line is that is the way I’m wired. So I have struggled big time this year. The coaches have really picked me up.”
Sporting an untucked button down shirt and jeans for the presser – in stark contrast to his navy suit and orange tie two years ago at his introduction – Kubiak was exactly as he’s always been – honest, humble, straightforward.
“Patrick gave me a list of things to say, but I’m going to speak from my heart,” the coach said.
The 12-minute emotional speech started and ended with thank you’s – beginning with “the greatest owner in all of sports Pat Bowlen” and ending with his long-time friend John Elway before ultimately thanking his wife, Rhonda, for letting him do what he loved for so long.
A week ago Kubiak called up Elway and asked if he could meet with him - “As my friend, not my boss,” Elway recalled.
As old friends – stretching all the way back to 1983 when Kubiak was drafted in the eighth round out of A&M and Elway was traded from Baltimore, who picked him in the first round out of Stanford – the two talked through the night.
Elway noted that when he started to talk Kubiak out of the decision, his buddy reminded him of the time Mike Shannahan sent Kubiak to talk Elway out of retiring.
“He put up his hand and said, ‘remember when you did that to me,’ and I said OK,” Elway said.
Kubiak pulled out a different historical reference to the longtime friendship – two years ago when Elway called him in Baltimore.
“One of things I remember telling him, ‘You know what, two years ago I was in Baltimore and had made a decision to be a coordinator a few more years and enjoy this.’ And I said, ‘Damnit, you picked up the phone and called me. Why did you call me?’
“But thank God he did. Thank God he did,” Kubiak added, becoming reflective. “That ring will be special to me – and what took place the past couple of years.”
What Kubiak has done for the Broncos is nothing short of remarkable, even if most of it has been done on the sidelines and in the background.
Playing backup to Elway from 1983-1991 also meant being ready to help an oft-championship-caliber team keep winning – which he did three out of five times – while also being part of three AFC championship teams.
As offensive coordinator for the Broncos from 1995-2005, Kubiak helped Elway finally get his coveted Super Bowl win – and even helped him get a second.
After eight seasons as head coach of the Texans and a one-year stint as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, Kubiak was coaxed back to Denver to help bring home a third Lombardi.
And that’s exactly what he did. In spite of a quarterback scenario that would have undone most teams, Kubiak not only kept the ship afloat but balanced it perfectly through tough waters.
“The guy walked into a tough situation two years ago. Four division titles, been to a Super Bowl, expectations were high, and he came in here and won that Super Bowl last year,” Elway said just after noting, “We’ve been friends a long time. He did a great job, he’s going to be missed. I just have so much respect for him.”
Gary Kubiak has been coach, mentor & friend to me & my family since 1994. Thanks for everything, now go relax with Rhonda. You deserve it!— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) January 2, 2017
Perhaps the only guys to have as much respect for Kubiak are his current and former players.
Von Miller, in particular, credits Kubes for helping him find his way as a team leader.
“We had a connection right away. He went to Texas A&M, and I’ve known him for a while. With the other regime, I came in as a rookie and it was hard to grow out of that rookie stuff; even four years down the line,” Miller said. “With Coach Kubiak, …it felt like he had confidence in me and that he trusted me. It felt like he wanted me to be the leader of this team. He was always cool and confident with me and that’s exactly what I needed. He came at a perfect time in my career.”
Trevor Siemian was notably grateful for a man who gave him a chance that not many coaches might have.
“I love Kubes. I owe him a lot obviously. I had no business being drafted, no business really being around, so I owe him a lot for giving me a chance, getting me in the door and giving me a chance to play,” Siemian said. “It’s tough, but I’ve got to push on.”
Chris Harris Jr. says it is sad to see Kubiak go, but he was happy to send the coach out right – winning the game in a dominating way.
“He was a players’ coach. He took care of us and made sure that everyone was accountable,” Harris Jr. said. “That’s what’s always going to stick out for me.”
Emmanuel Sanders added that Kubes will “truly, truly be missed.”
“I wish him the best and I’m just so thankful,” Sanders said. “He came here, and he brought a championship to the city of Denver, and I’m forever grateful for that.”
And Darian Stewart, who joined the Broncos via free agency two years ago because Kubiak told Elway to take a look at him, will miss playing for the man he called his best coach.
“It’s just tough. We love playing for him. He’s the best coach I’ve played for, I loved it,” said Stewart, who signed a long-term contract with the Broncos this season. “Like I said, the best head coach I’ve played for. No discredit to any of my past ones. He’s just a great man and a true loyal guy. We’re going to miss him a great deal. That’s our leader.”
Standing at the podium for one last time, their leader said a tearful and heartfelt goodbye.
“What John Elway has done for the Denver Broncos is unmatched in sports – as a player, as an executive. He’s the best in the business to work for,” Kubiak said. “I wish I could continue to do that, but unfortunately I can’t. Thanks so much, John. I love ya. Thanks NFL. Thanks to the Denver Broncos. I love you all very much.”
Then Kubes grabbed his now-torn notebook and walked away from a game and the team he loves dearly.
"This place is special, built to do one thing – win championships. It’s going to win many more, and I’m going to be its biggest fan." pic.twitter.com/HPl4pErOuB— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) January 2, 2017