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Gary Kubiak's Impact on Vikings Has Been Felt All Over

EAGAN, Minn. — On Wednesday mornings during a normally-scheduled week, the Vikings have a team meeting at 8:30 a.m. sharp inside the auditorium at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

There is a special teams meeting beforehand, but Gary Kubiak isn't needed there, so the Vikings assistant head coach/offensive advisor lingers outside the auditorium and just relaxes.

Some mornings, Kubiak chats with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Other times, he shares a laugh with his son, Klint, the Vikings quarterbacks coach who first coached for Minnesota from 2013-14. Other times, he takes a seat on the floor and peers out a window, admiring a small lake on the east side of the practice facility.

Nearly three-quarters into his first season in Minnesota, it's quite clear Kubiak is enjoying his unique role with the Vikings.

"You know what, I really have. I really have. It's different, I will say that," said Kubiak, who has nearly 10 years of head coaching experience in the NFL, plus another 12 seasons as an offensive coordinator. "I go home a little earlier than I used to, but I really have enjoyed myself. It's keeping me young as a coach. Coach-speak, I should say, it's keeping me young.

"I go on the field, I love working with young players. I'm actually running the scout team for the offense, I do that. I love working with those young guys," Kubiak added. "Going on to the defensive end, I'm making sure how we get Kirk (Cousins) prepared to play. I think all of those things have really given me a lot of juice back, and I'm really enjoying what I'm doing."

The 58-year-old Kubiak has an easy-going vibe these days, but it's become evident in recent months that he has had a tremendous impact on Vikings coaches and players.

Want concrete proof? Here is what Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer — a guy not exactly known for haphazardly handing out compliments — said about Kubiak before Minnesota's Week 11 game against Denver.

"It's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me since I've been here," Zimmer gushed. "He's very smart. I talk to him a lot about what he's done as a head coach."

There are also tangible numbers that back up Kubiak's impact on the Vikings, as he has served as a mentor and sounding board for Stefanski, the play-caller for an offense that ranks eighth in points per game (26.3), and ninth in yards per game (378.6).

Being in the top 10 in both categories is nothing new for Kubiak. In the 22 previous seasons he has spent as an offensive coordinator or head coach, his offenses have finished in the top 10 in points scored 15 times … and in the top 10 in yards gained 13 different times.

Minnesota's 2019 offense is arguably the best the Vikings have had under Zimmer since he was hired.

From 2014 to 2018, the Vikings averaged 33.8 offensive touchdowns each season, with a high of 40 in 2017. The current Vikings have 35 scores, and are on pace for 50-plus scores.

And from 2014 to 2018, Minnesota's offense averaged 330.8 yards per game, with a high of 356.9 in 2017. The current Vikings average 378.6 per game, and are pace for more than 6,000 yards of offense. They would be the first Vikings team since 2009 to reach that mark.

"I heard a lot [about Kubiak]," Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said of his initial impression. "People kept saying Terrell Davis and all those good backs, but when you go look at his track record and how they were doing it and what they were running, it's some of the stuff I like running and some of the stuff I was good at.

"Just had to get my body physically and mentally ready for the challenge," Cook added. "I love the scheme and love everything we're doing."

Added Cousins: "Ultimately I think Gary, having been a quarterback in this league, knowing how difficult it is, knowing what you need to be successful, I think there's an awareness of all that has to take place for a passing game and an offense to come together and to be productive and I think that awareness makes a difference.''

Cousins and Cook have certainly benefited from Kubiak's presence. Both are in the middle of career seasons.

Cousins has completed 226 of 320 passes (70.6 percent) for 2,756 yards with 21 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating is 114.8, which ranks second in the league behind Russell Wilson's 114.8 rating.

Cook, meanwhile, ranks second in the NFL with 1,472 yards from scrimmage and is also second with 11 total scores. He is also one of three running backs to have surpassed 1,000 rushing yards this season.

But Kubiak's influence isn't just limited to Minnesota's established players, a group that also includes tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

When Kubiak was hired back in January, he brought a few friends with him as well. Besides his son Klint being named the quarterbacks coach, longtime assistants Rick Dennison (offensive line coach/run game coordinator) and Brian Pariani (tight ends coach) were also brought on board as well.

And when Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman chatted with Twin Cities media members Wednesday, he pointed to the influence of those four veteran coaches in helping Minnesota's scouting department identify key traits to look for when adding a collection of rookies to the team.

"I think that goes back to giving credit to how well we work together with the coaches," Spielman said. "The biggest thing when Kevin became the full-time offensive coordinator and Gary was coming in, just having full-time meetings before we got into the personnel, or into the process, was to identify all of the traits we were going to be looking for.

"And, they're great coaches. They know and everybody knows that these young guys are going to have to play and step up. The coaches take on that challenge, where we're bringing in the right guys to not only fit the physical part of the scheme but also the type of guys from a character standpoint that we're trying to build this with, 'At least you have a chance to have a chance with these guys,' " Spielman added. "I do know for as much time as we spend watching tape and evaluating what we do, we really try to spend as much time on, 'Do they love football? Do they fit all of the off-field traits, do they fit all of the grit and toughness, everything we try to look for when we bring guys in."

Kubiak's input — and that of others — was helpful in the Vikings selecting a quartet of impact rookies on offense, beginning with first-round center Garrett Bradbury, the only Vikings player to be on the field for all 731 of Minnesota's offensive snaps in 2019.

Second-round tight end Irv Smith, Jr., has also come on of late, as he caught his first touchdown pass Sunday against the Broncos. The rookie has 27 catches for 261 yards and a score in 2019.

Alexander Mattison, a third-round running back, has averaged 4.80 yards per carry so far. He has 394 yards and a score on 82 carries.

And seventh-round wide receiver Bisi Johnson has also been called upon, especially with Thielen hampered by a hamstring injury for almost half the season so far. The former Colorado State standout has 24 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

Kubiak has also had a calming effect on Zimmer, much like former Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano had before he unexpectedly passed away in July of 2018.

Zimmer recently said the history between the two goes back to 1994 when Kubiak was in San Francisco as the quarterbacks coach and Zimmer was in Dallas as an assistant defensive backs coach. (Kubiak's 49ers earned a 38-28 win over Zimmer's Cowboys in the NFC title game that season as Steve Young had three total touchdowns against Dallas' defense).

"I don't know about shooting the breeze too much, once in a while, maybe a couple times a week I'll walk down to his office and sit down and just ask him questions," Zimmer said. "You don't have a lot of time to sit around and just chit-chat, but we usually go down and spend 10-15 minutes there.

"We talk a lot about offensive and defensive football," Zimmer added. "I just love his demeanor and the way that he and Kevin can communicate during the games and also during the week on game plans."

Added Kubiak: "I know the job he has to do, and I know the job that I have to do for him. But we have some great conversations. When you've been a head coach before and you come off of a game, a lot of times the assistant coaches don't know what the head coach is dealing with that day. I know when Zim' is dealing with when other things are going on, so we have a lot of conversations. When I see him coming down the hall, I can see him from a distance because my office is in the corner up there, I know he's usually coming down to sit and just talk for a little bit. But I've really enjoyed it, very impressed with Zim' and his work and the job he's doing with this team."

Kubiak didn't have much to prove when he arrived in Minnesota, as he'd already cemented himself as one of the best offensive minds of his generation. But that generation wasn't in the present, where teams are more apt to get in shotgun, spread the ball out and chuck it around 50 times per game.

Kubiak's system is more focused on a zone-running scheme with mobile offensive linemen who have been supplemented by big-bodied personnel (multiple tight ends and or a fullback.

The topic of Kubiak's legacy has come up here and there in recent weeks. And yes, the Vikings have shown that you can still be successful playing a different brand of football than most teams.

But Kubiak is also making sure he passes on other traits, too. Mainly to Stefanski, who is looked at as a potential NFL head coach one day.

"I think it's been great having him around. It's been invaluable to me, as this is my first year doing this," Stefanski said. "Having somebody that I can bounce ideas off of both during the week and during the game.

"And then on top of that, you guys know Gary," Stefanski added. "Great person, so in terms of working together I think he among all of our staff, I'd point out to every single one of our coaches, I think it's really a great working environment where we can get a lot done and respect each other's ideas and thoughts, and Gary is certainly at the forefront of that."

Whether it's little things such as a word of advice in a team meeting, lending an ear to Zimmer or helping out with a big-picture ideas such as who the Vikings should take in the draft, there is zero doubt that Kubiak has had an immense impact on the Vikings thus far.

Not that it means he wants to be a head coach again.

"The itch? No, it has not given me the itch. I'm doing just fine," Kubiak said. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I had my chance to be the head coach, I really enjoyed it, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing now."

But it could mean an exceptional final six weeks of the 2019 season for the Vikings, who currently sit at 8-3 and are well-positioned for both a playoff spot and a possible division title.

If Kubiak can help the Vikings achieve something they never have before, it would give Kubiak a total of five Super Bowls in his career.

So far, so good for Kubiak, who is enjoying the ride so far in Minnesota.

"[The success so far in 2019] was my vision, but I think like anything else, I walked in here with a great group," Kubiak said. "It's a very experienced coaching staff, especially from the defensive standpoint. Obviously with Zim', a tremendous amount of experience.

"But I think they told me what they wanted me to do, they kind of explained my role to me, and it's truly been exactly that," Kubiak added. "[I'm] looking forward here to the stretch run."