EAGAN, Minn. – Gary Kubiak is enjoying his new role and his new co-workers.
Kubiak, whom the Vikings in February hired as their assistant head coach/offensive advisor, brings three decades of coaching experience to Minnesota’s staff.
And while Kubiak and Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski work very closely together, Kubiak emphasized to Twin Cities media members Thursday that it’s Stefanski who’s doing the teaching.
“It’s been good. It’s a different role, but I’m really enjoying it,” Kubiak said after the team’s final minicamp practice. “I get to watch guys coach, and I’m watching all them – we’ve got some good, young coaches on this offensive staff. I’m meeting with Kevin every day, watching him do the things I did for 30-something years and then sitting down with him after practice and talking through situations.”
Kubiak said he, Stefanski and the rest of the offensive coaching staff worked during the early part of the offseason to merge influences and “come up with the Minnesota offense.” Kubiak and Stefanski are together “every day, every minute” at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
“In meetings with the coaches, we go in, and he teaches. I’m in there watching him teach, and then we sit down and talk, because he’s doing things that I’ve done for a long, long time,” Kubiak said. “Mike Shanahan used to sit down in his office and watch me teach on a monitor, and I remember those days.
“I’ve really enjoyed him,” Kubiak added. “I’m very impressed with his work ethic and his passion and his ability to reach people in a lot of different ways.”
Additionally, Kubiak appreciates the opportunity to work alongside Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer rather than against him. The two seasoned competitors have worked to outwit each other numerous times over their NFL careers and, although they now battle on the practice field, they’re glad to be on the same side.
Kubiak said that Zimmer “does an excellent job,” specifically praising his organization and attention to detail in situational football. The former Broncos head coach said he tries to “keep my mouth shut and do my job” but values time spent with Zimmer in his office.
“He comes down and likes to sit and talk football a lot, and I really appreciate that because he and I have been through quite a few battles in this league,” Kubiak said. “I’m just really proud of the fact that he’s given me a chance to be part of it, and hopefully I can help out.”
One group Kubiak spends significant time with is the quarterbacks, led by Kirk Cousins.
He’s worked over the past few months to build a strong relationship with Cousins, who is entering his second season in Purple. Kubiak pointed out that each quarterback he’s coached over the years has varied in personality, skill set and how he interacts with his teammates and the offensive system.
“I think the biggest thing for me is watching Kirk, getting to know Kirk better each day,” Kubiak said. “I had a little cheat sheet when I came in here after talking to Coach Shanahan, who worked with him for years, but that’s one thing Kirk and I talk about every day.
“It’s about me getting to know him as good as I possibly can and then working my tail off for him to put him in the best possible position for him to be successful,” he added.
Cousins was asked about Kubiak’s teaching style during his Wednesday afternoon media session, and he described practices in which the coach “stands right behind the quarterbacks” or directly behind the huddle on every play.
“So you can hear his voice right after a play or as you’re dropping back, what he’s thinking,” Cousins explained. “Our coaches do a good job. They’ll coach us sometimes through asking a question. They’ll say, ‘Hey, what’s your footwork there?’ Rather than just telling you the answer, they’ll make you process it, and I think that’s a great style of coaching.”
What has stood out the most to Kubiak from his up-close perspective of Cousins?
He said Cousins’ accuracy has been most impressive to him.
“He’s an extremely accurate player and plays the game on the move really, really well,” said Kubiak, who added that it’s been good for Cousins to work with some younger players throughout the spring.
Off the field, Kubiak appreciates Cousins’ mindset and focus on success.
“One of the first things he said to me when we talked a few months ago when I got here [was], ‘Coach, I’ve had some good things happen in my career and had some good numbers, but I want to win.’ And that’s what we all want to do. That’s what you’re searching for with your football team, and if you have people thinking that way, you’ve got a chance to get there.”
Added Kubiak: “He pushes himself every day, works hard at it, first one here in the morning, those types of things. He gives you everything he has, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Vikings offense is coming along and beginning to take shape, but Kubiak acknowledged that the defense has a leg up due to longevity of the system.
While offensive players are learning a new system and new terminology, their teammates across the line of scrimmage are well-versed in a Zimmer defense that, at its core, has remained consistent.
Asked if the difference in experience made it difficult to evaluate the offense, Kubiak responded, “No, I think that’s just real.”
“Like I told Kevin and like I told the players, it gives us a chance to be really good. Because when you go against good people every day, and our defense is excellent, it gives you a chance to be as good as you can possibly be,” Kubiak said. “Everything that happens out here every day for us is real, so we’re making good progress, but we have to be on our toes each and every day to be able to find ways to move the football. That will give us a chance to be as good as we can be.”
With the final day of minicamp in the rearview mirror and players now dispersing until the start of Vikings training camp, Kubiak feels positive about the direction things are going.
“I think we’ve had a good spring,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, you know, but our work has been really good. We’ve taken some steps forward as a group in all areas, in my opinion. I think the key now is that we come back and we pick up where we left off, that we make sure we don’t have to kind of start again. Let’s pick up where we left off and go from there.”