MOBILE, Ala. — Lindsay Jones has tracked Gary Kubiak’s progression for decades.
The Denver-based writer for The Athletic watched during her youth as Kubiak backed up Hall of Fame QB John Elway for the Broncos from 1983-91.
Kubiak then became Elway’s offensive coordinator on Mike Shanahan’s staff in 1995. Kubiak held the role in Denver until 2006 when he became head coach of the Houston Texans (2006-13). After a season in Baltimore as the offensive coordinator for the Ravens, Kubiak returned to Denver as a head coach for two seasons before transitioning to the personnel department for another two.
By the time Kubiak returned to the Mile High City, Jones was covering the team on its run to winning Super Bowl 50.
Jones explained what she’s observed from Kubiak, particularly in his time as Denver’s head coach, and offered a take on how Kubiak’s new role in Minnesota as assistant head coach/offensive advisor might impact the Vikings.
“When he was the head coach, he was also their play caller, so he was very instrumental in running the Broncos offense,” Jones said. “Although that offense they ran in 2015 when they ended up winning the Super Bowl, I don’t know if that’s ideally what he wants his offense to necessarily look like because they had all of this quarterback turmoil where Peyton Manning got hurt and he was kind of a shell of himself and they had to play with Brock Osweiler, but Gary is a brilliant offensive mind.
“He comes from the Mike Shanahan tree,” Jones added. “We all now want to talk about the Kyle Shanahan tree, but it’s really the Mike Shanahan tree and very versed in the West Coast Offense. It will be really interesting to see how that relationship works with Kevin Stefanski; Stefanski is going to call the plays. It will be his offense, but Gary is going to have his hands all over it.”
In case you missed it, it’s been a busy month for the Vikings, who named Kevin Stefanski as the offensive coordinator on Jan. 9.
Minnesota hired Gary Kubiak, Brian Pariani (tight ends) and Klint Kubiak (quarterbacks) on Jan. 14.
Against the backdrop of the Senior Bowl, where more than 110 college prospects are trying to put their best feet forward for NFL teams, Jones said Gary has a “good way of handling players and knowing what they need and the different situations.”
“He really treats them like men, like adults, lets them be themselves, and he’s really good at knowing what his players do best and putting them in the right situations,” Jones said. “I think it will be a really good effect in that locker room, in those offensive meeting rooms. I think his wide receivers will benefit from that.
“I think he has some similarities with [Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer philosophically, where a lot of the offenses around the league, it’s going pass, pass, pass, and Gary still wants to run the ball first, and I think that meshes very well with what Coach Zimmer wants to do,” she added.
In the 11 seasons in which Kubiak was Shanahan’s offensive coordinator (1995-2005), the Broncos ranked…
In the top 10 in the NFL in points scored 10 times
In the top 10 in the NFL in net yards nine times
In the top 10 in the NFL in rush yards 10 times
In the top 10 in the NFL in pass yards six times
Jones could easily envision the 2019 Vikings establishing the run and implementing play-action passes and bootlegs.
“That’s a huge part of Gary Kubiak’s [system]. When I think about a staple play of the Gary Kubiak offense, it’s the naked bootleg,” Jones said. “I’m picturing Jake Plummer running them all day long. They love that [way of] getting their quarterback on the move. That never worked with Peyton Manning. You couldn’t do that with 39-year-old Peyton Manning a couple of years ago, so I think you’ll see those elements in there.
“Obviously, Kubiak has never directly coached Kirk Cousins, but he is very familiar with the Shanahans.”
Kyle Shanahan, coincidentally, was born in Minneapolis when his father was offensive coordinator for the Gophers (1979) and is coaching the South team at the Senior Bowl after completing his second season as 49ers head coach. Prior to that, he worked on Kubiak’s Texans staff (2006-09) and working for Mike Shanahan as Redskins offensive coordinator from 2010-13.
When Mike retired at the end of that season, Kyle became offensive coordinator for the Browns (2014) and Falcons (2015-16).
Washington drafted Cousins in 2012, but he didn’t become Washington’s starter until 2015 with Jay Gruden as his head coach and Sean McVay as offensive coordinator.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco also envisioned the Vikings getting Cousins out of the pocket by design more often than in 2018.
“I think that system is conducive to getting you outside the pocket and making plays,” Prisco said. “Everything is predicated on how you zone run the ball, and if you can run the ball out of the zone game, then you’re going to have opportunities down the field. I thought that’s kind of why they went to Stefanski last year.
“Kirk in the shotgun isn’t the same guy he is under center when he’s able to play off play action, so I think it will help him,” Prisco said. “I think it will be good for him.”