Nov 15, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with head coach Gary Kubiak following being
SANTA CLARA—When Peyton Manning was in his prime, mostly during his time with the Indianapolis Colts, there would be claims he was really the coach of the team, or the guy in charge.
Such talk was part cajolery of Manning’s value and his air of superiority but it also dishonored his willingness to obey.
Obedience may be the most underrated characteristic of leadership.
“I don’t know about obedience but you need your leaders to buy in,’’ said former NFL receiver Brandon Stokley, who was twice a former teammate of Manning’s. “If you don’t have that then the others guys aren’t going to do it. When you get a new coach in college, if those seniors don’t buy in, you lose the underclassmen.
“Same thing in the NFL. That’s why you see so many coaches come in and they start getting rid of players. Because if you’re not buying in they know they’re going to lose the rest of the guys. You need Peyton, you need Demarcus (Ware), you need Aqib (Talib) to buy into your philosophies.’’
This season more than any other in his 18-year NFL career, Manning proved he understood his role of subservient student who listened to his teachers. He took a $4 million pay cut. He didn’t have to like it. But he took it. John Elway is boss. (Manning earned $2 million back through a bonus for winning the AFC Championship Game and he can recoup the other half by helping to defeat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday).
Then there was new head coach Gary Kubiak. Everyone knew from the moment Kubiak was hired his offensive system was not a good fit for Manning. All that huddle-up, under-center, handoff, and roll-out stuff was fine for Matt Schaub.
But Manning became a legend by operating at the line of scrimmage, playing at a fast tempo, passing from the pocket and handing off only when his receivers needed to catch their breath.
Why it was like putting reigns on an old Colt.
But instead of complaining, Manning worked hard to learn the new system. He spent hours on footwork. He leaned his body. He studied the new playbook.
“I don’t think necessarily that players complain,’’ Manning said. “I will just say this: When you have a new head coach, I think it is important for all players to take some time to understand what his expectations are and what his philosophies are. That takes time. We all got together for the first time in April. There are minicamps, OTAs and training camps. I have tried to understand what coach has expected from me as a player and as a leader.
“The fact that we get to experience working with (Kubiak) and playing for him in the couple postseasons games and Super Bowl – we feel very fortunate.’’
To be clear, this wasn’t a Kubiak-or-else relationship. Kubiak didn’t become a coach good enough to participate in the Super Bowl by not adapting to his players’ skill sets.
Broncos tight end Owen Daniels, who played eight seasons for Kubiak in Houston, one in Baltimore and now one in Denver, was asked how much of his head coach’s offense has changed as an adjustment to Manning.
“I would say maybe 20 percent,” Daniels said. “We never worked at the line of scrimmage like we do now. He let Peyton play to his strengths. Peyton is great at working at the line of scrimmage.
“(Before) we would huddle, call a play, maybe have a check, but we usually would just run the play. It was a little bit of adjustment for maybe (Kubiak), maybe a guy like me who has never done that. But it adds a lot to what we usually do.
“Maybe we don’t move the quarterback quite as much as we did other years, but we do other things that take that spot. I think both guys have been really unselfish about everything. They both have given a little bit on either side.’’
Manning may not have had his best season playing quarterback. In fact, it was his worst, at least statistically. But he was vital to the Broncos reaching Super Bowl 50 because he helped lead the Broncos through the first-year transition of the Kubiak era by doing what the head coach told him.
Here’s a stat: The Broncos have won 10 of 12 games Manning has played this season.
“I’ve been fortunate in this league, I got to coach John (Elway) for a period of time, I got to coach Steve Young for a time in San Francisco, and now I get a chance to spend a year with Peyton,” Kubiak said. “Those great players, they challenge you as coaches. They’re so bright and they understand the game, they understand how to attack things. They challenge you when you walk in that meeting room.
“To be honest with you, from a coaching standpoint, that’s what you want to be around because that’s how you grow as a coach. If you go in there every day and they’ve got guys that say, ‘Okay, what do you want me to do?’ you don’t really grow. I’ve enjoyed it.’’
And this isn’t about Manning conforming because his advanced age and declining physical skills gave him no other choice. Contrary to perception, Manning has always known his place.
“Is he heavily involved in the offense and do coaches ask him how he feels about certain things?’’ Stokley said. “’m sure. I’m sure he has his input. But he’s always bought in to every head coach and given every head coach the respect that that guy deserves.”
Maybe that's one reason why Manning is about to become only the quarterback to play in his fourth Super Bowl with his fourth head coach.
(© 2016 KUSA)