Alex Gibbs, the architect of the Denver Broncos’ famed zone blocking scheme that thwarted defenses and helped John Elway win his first of two Lombardis as quarterback, has passed away. He died at age 80 of complications from a stroke at his home in Phoenix.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Alex Gibbs, who had a profound impact on the Denver Broncos and the National Football League as an offensive line coach,” the Broncos said in a statement. “During his 14 years with the Broncos, Coach Gibbs left a lasting legacy on this league with his innovative blocking schemes and outstanding teaching ability. He helped the Broncos to Super Bowls during three different decades—including back-to-back World Championships—while forging a reputation as one of the greatest assistant coaches in NFL history.”
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Alex Gibbs, who had a profound impact on the Denver Broncos & the @NFL as an offensive line coach.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) July 12, 2021
Our hearts go out to Alex’s wife, Trina, and the entire Gibbs family as well as Alex’s many former players and fellow coaches. pic.twitter.com/lL0050xdt0
I first became aware of Alex Gibbs while I was playing offensive line at Davidson College in the mid-90s. Gibbs had been a football player at Davidson in the 60s, and he was, at that time, the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos. He was the man behind the devastating zone blocking scheme that made Terrell Davis a Hall-of-Famer and brought the first two Lombardi trophies to Dove Valley.
I distinctly remember having a conversation with my research advisor prior to Super Bowl XXXII. The AFC had lost 13 straight Super Bowls at that point and he asked me “if the Broncos were even going to be able to stay close to the defending Super Bowl champion Packers.” I said the Broncos were going to win. He laughed, but then asked why I believed that. I responded by saying that Denver’s offensive line was the best in the game and Green Bay’s defensive line and linebackers were not going to be able to hold up to the relentless rushing attack that Alex Gibbs had created. He responded with, “Alex who?” I said he was the offensive line coach for the Broncos. (Gibbs would later be named assistant head coach by Mike Shanahan.)
At that time I was a senior in college and the coaching staff at Davidson had been trying in vain for four years to get Gibbs to come give a clinic on the zone blocking scheme to our intelligent, but horribly undersized offensive linemen (our average size was 240 pounds). Unfortunately, NFL coaches don’t speak for free, and our underfunded football program didn’t have the money to entice Gibbs to speak. His status as an alum helped, but not much (partly because he was still pissed at Davidson for dropping football scholarships in the 80s).
As Broncos fans, you remember what happened in Super Bowl XXXII, but I’ll walk you back down that pleasant memory lane.
Denver would finish the game with 181 yards rushing on 37 attempts (I removed the two kneel-downs), even with Terrell Davis leaving the game with a migraine headache. Davis missed the entire second quarter of the game. The Broncos would run the ball twice in the second quarter, gaining one total yard, while Davis was sidelined.
Davis would come back with a vengeance in the second half, though, carrying the ball 21 times. According to the wikipedia page “except for two penalties and Elway’s kneel-downs to end each half, the Broncos did not lose yardage on any play from scrimmage.”
If that is not testimony to the offensive line and to Alex Gibbs as a coach, I don’t know what is.
The Packers had Hall-of-Fame defensive end Reggie White, who had almost single-handedly destroyed the Patriots’ offensive line in the previous Super Bowl, recording three sacks with a host of additional QB pressures on the harried Drew Bledsoe. The Packers’ defense was quite good in the 1996 and 1997 seasons, ranking first and fifth in points allowed respectively.
Gibbs would leave the Broncos after the 2003 season to join the Falcons coaching staff, but he would return briefly in 2013 as an offensive line consultant for the Broncos. Gibbs actually had three coaching stints with the Broncos, his first starting with Dan Reeves in 1984 and lasting through the 1987 season. Gibbs retired for good from coaching after the 2013 consulting gig, but it was fitting that his last NFL position was with the team he helped bring two championship wins.