As the head coach of the Denver Broncos, there’s no place for the egotistical, ill-prepared or weak. If one thinks they are bigger than this job, it will chew them up and spit them out.
There is great reward in this position, but the fall is epic if you don’t know and embrace the expectations.
Gary Kubiak did that. He wanted that. The challenge didn’t scare him. He knew what came with being the Broncos’ head coach. The two coaches prior to him didn’t, and we saw the result. One went so far as to ask: “Isn’t winning the division enough?”
From the second Kubiak stepped off that plane two seasons ago at Centennial Airport, fans hoped the Broncos were on the right path. After all, he knows John Elway better than just about anyone, he’s a lifelong Bronco and what it means to work for Pat Bowlen. Yet there was still doubt.
Then Broncos Country got all the evidence it ever needed that Kubiak was the perfect man for this job. As I said in our memories of Kubiak story, this moment is the most obscure but the most telling. It came at training camp in his first season as head coach.
As Adam Malnati and I talked about on the Mile High Report Radio Podcast, it was then he put the players and coaches through a mock situation. That situation? Field goal returns. Why would any coach waste time on something like that?
“The season’s about recall," Kubiak said at the time. "You can’t stand out here every day and keep your guys out here doing those things every day, but you’ve got to throw it to them and talk about how you handle situations. There has to be great recall during the course of the season. We’re going to hit it all. We’ve got what we call ‘mock situations’ all the time where we’re putting players through mind games, in a lot of ways, and coaches."
"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
That’s quite the change from what unfolded with John Fox, whose teams were constantly caught off guard … when he wasn’t quitting prior to a home playoff game.
From that mock situation and quote, Kubiak showed how much he cared about his role and team, and how seriously he took both. He showed how much preparation and teaching meant to him. He also highlighted what it takes to win in the NFL.
You may not have always agreed with the choices he made in his two years in Denver, but there was no doubt the team would never be caught off guard or unprepared for any situation over the course of a game. You knew he would put his players in the best situation possible to succeed.
That’s why so many current and former players evoked so much emotion when the news came he was retiring. That says more than anything that was actually said. When you win as a head coach and still have the respect of your players? That’s incredibly rare in the crazy world of sports, and speaks volumes about the character of Kubiak.
As Elway and the Broncos look to build and move on, those traits are the most important in whomever is chosen as the replacement. It’s not about offense or defense. It’s about how this individual commands the room and the presence of the players in that room. As former NFL executive and analyst on NFL Network Charley Casserly said, communication and character are vital pieces to a head coach. He followed that up by saying judgement of the staff and players, capped by management of the staff and players.
The perfect example of that is Aqib Talib. How would the new head coach respond to his defensive back ripping the chain off of an opponent? Then how would he handle a personality like Matt Paradis?
When the news first broke of Kubiak stepping down, I wasn’t sold on a rookie head coach with the Broncos. Perhaps it’s the scars of the Josh McDaniels failure. My line of thinking went: This isn’t the time or team for on-the-job training.
But then I started to think about the franchise that’s the best at hiring people, the Pittsburgh Steelers. In over 40 years, they have had three head coaches. All three of them rookie head coaches in their 30s.
It’s not about offense or defense, experience or rookie. It’s about the traits Kubiak exhibited on a daily basis, but also the leadership qualities mentioned above. That’s what Elway and the Broncos will look at above all else when they make their selection.
There’s one more I’ll add to the mix: This person appreciates, knows and fully understands what comes with being the head coach of the Broncos. A man who wants the challenge and views the expectations as a means to a huge reward — both for the franchise and himself.