- E-Mail Alerts & Newsletters
- First-&-Orange blog
- Denver Broncos photos
- Broncos Mailbag
- Ask Mailbag questions
- Broncos stats and roster
- 2015 Broncos schedule
- Bronco Bus fan forum
SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — Coach Gary Kubiak was grinning as
he stood in the corner of the Broncos' locker room after a 17-15 victory at Chicago on Nov. 22. His message to the team was proud, assertive and loud — this is how we win.
With their season teetering after back-to-back losses, quarterback Brock Osweiler led the Broncos into Chicago and got the first win of his career in his first start.
It was an ugly win, but it helped the Broncos mold their identity during the first season with Kubiak as their coach.
"I don't think I've ever been more proud of a group of men than I was that day," Kubiak said. "We bonded. We came together as a group."
That was the day Kubiak truly took control of the team. A constant internal battle between Kubiak and quarterback Peyton Manning over the direction of the offense was put on the backburner.
When the Broncos lost Manning to a foot injury and Osweiler became the starting QB, Kubiak showed there were different avenues to success than the high-powered offenses of previous Manning seasons in Denver.
The mantra for the Broncos, Kubiak's team, soon became "Find a way."
Osweiler faced the undefeated, Bill Belichick-led Patriots, who had a knack of devouring inexperienced quarterbacks. But the Broncos found a way.
In a playoff rematch with the Patriots, Kubiak implemented a game plan that set up Manning, who had recovered from his injury, to find a way in the AFC championship game.
"He navigated himself through a very sensitive QB situation where he was able to find, in my opinion, his QB of the future in Brock Osweiler," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said of Kubiak. "And also to keep Peyton involved and implement an offense that's a little bit of hybrid between what Gary wants to do and what Peyton is able to do and comfortable doing.
"He did an amazing job."
John Harbaugh helpful for Gary Kubiak
In 2013, Kubiak was going through one of the roughest seasons of his coaching career. He collapsed on the field at halftime of a home game while coaching the Texans. The scare was diagnosed as a mini-stroke. A little over a month later, he was fired.
Immediately after his dismissal, Kubiak did a lot of reflecting. Is this what he truly wanted to do?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh had an opening on his staff for an offensive coordinator. Rick Dennison, who had just been let go by the Texans as their offensive coordinator, suggested that Harbaugh give Kubiak a call. He did, and spent a couple days with Kubiak trying to gauge his interest.
Get sports news and updates right in your inbox
Sign up to receive news alerts and a daily roundup of all things Colorado sports delivered to your inbox.
"He had so much success as a head coach and he was so well established, then it was like boom. It changes overnight," Harbaugh said. "I got the sense that he wasn't interested coming on as a coordinator."
Kubiak changed his mind, though, and joined Harbaugh's staff. He was all Ravens from Day One, but Harbaugh knew Kubiak wanted to be a head coach again.
"Did I think I would get another opportunity? I don't know, but I knew I loved the work, and I felt good about continuing to go," Kubiak said.
Kubiak considers the year he spent with Harbaugh and the Ravens as the launching pad to his success with the Broncos this season. He picked up different ways to run an NFL team, everything from disciplining players to practice routines. The most important impact might have been Harbaugh's aggressiveness seeping into Kubiak's conservative style.
"Whether it was going for it on fourth down, which we were second-most in the league last year when Gary was here," Harbaugh said. "He has kind of adjusted his thinking there a little bit because it wasn't something he did a lot in Houston."
Kubiak made big decisions this season to go for it on fourth down. He even hired a director of analytics, Mitch Tanney, for the team.
John Harbaugh: "He's so genuine"
On his first day as Denver's coach, Kubiak didn't implement a game plan or study film. Instead, he called every player on the roster and told them he was proud to join the team. He asked them about their families and how the offseason was going.
"It's definitely Gary being Gary," Harbaugh said. "That's one of his great strengths, and that's why he connects well with players — because he's so genuine."
When Kubiak benched Manning during the Chiefs game Nov. 15, the players backed him. They were just as supportive when Kubiak decided to put Manning back on the field during the third quarter of the regular-season finale against the Chargers on Jan. 3.
It's the low-profile coaching decisions, though, that often make the biggest difference. Such as calling a timeout late in the AFC championship game to give outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware a breather. On the next play, Ware sacked Tom Brady. Or sending practice-squad safety Ryan Murphy back to Denver last week after an off-field incident.
"A normal, laid-back, honest, straight-ahead guy," cornerback Aqib Talib said of Kubiak. "He's just straightforward with us, tells us what he expects of us, and that's what we give him. He lets us be men and he runs our team perfectly."
It's translated into a 14-4 team that doesn't wilt under pressure.
"When you come from 14 down three times in a year (to win), it takes a lot of character, it's hard to do," Kubiak said. "We always find a way to win."