I spent the last week trying to make sense of everything that has happened. Last Sunday, the Broncos were primed to make another run at the Super Bowl. The roster was much healthier and supposedly more talented than the one from the year before, providing plenty of incentive to feel hopeful about our chances. Then the game started and all of that optimism disappeared on the horizon as quickly as a winter sunset. Not only did the Broncos get outplayed by an inferior Colts team, but the coaching staff did little to adjust when things went awry and the players went out without so much as a whimper.
This was completely unacceptable, or as John Elway put it so bluntly, if the Broncos were going to lose then they needed to go down “kicking and screaming.” They didn’t, seemingly content with a fourth-straight AFC West title and yet another one and done showing in the playoffs. On a team whose expectations were sky high heading into the season, someone had to pay for such a lackluster, uninspired effort in the first game of the 2014 campaign that truly mattered. That someone turned out to be John Fox.
Flash forward to today and Elway has made the parameters of his revised “Plan A” abundantly clear; in order to claim more Super Bowl titles in the future, the Broncos are going to re-embrace their past. Enter Gary Kubiak, returning to Denver after nine years in a quest for that elusive third Lombardi trophy. It just feels oh so right.
From the moment that Elway and Fox mutually parted ways (the most polite way to announce that someone is out of a job), it’s pretty obvious that Kubiak was the slam dunk favorite to be the next head coach. It was evident when Elway requested an interview with Kubiak even after he stated that he was remaining in Baltimore for 2015, and it became indisputable when the other candidates the Broncos had lined up began canceling their interviews. Maybe in his search to find someone like-minded that shared his vision for success, Elway decided that there wasn’t anyone who would fit the bill as well as his old friend. Perhaps he simply wants to recapture the glory days of the ’97 and ’98 seasons. Or maybe Kubiak is the coach that Elway has wanted from the moment he returned to the Broncos.
Whatever the reason, it just feels like things have come full circle. After three mostly successful seasons with Fox and Peyton Manning that all concluded in bitter fashion, the Broncos are banking on the idea that Kubiak can get them over the hump. Was he the best man for the job? It’s hard to see how they could’ve done much better. Jim Harbaugh was being introduced at Michigan before his seat in San Francisco had even cooled off. Rex Ryan, for all his swagger and championship proclamations, saw his Jets miss the playoffs four years in a row. A lot of people are intrigued by Dan Quinn and Tyrel Austin (he was my first choice for the job, so naturally he didn’t even come close), but they are completely unproven when it comes to leading an entire team.
Kubiak and Elway won’t have to worry about building chemistry. They already trust each other completely and will likely see eye-to-eye on matters of personnel and strategy, something that Fox never quite attained with his old boss. Skeptics will point to Kubiak’s mediocre win-loss record from his time in Houston and the fact that he has never been to the Super Bowl as a head coach, something that Fox has done twice. Optimists see that Kubiak took a dumpster fire of an expansion team and made them competitive, winning a couple of AFC South titles as well as the franchise’s first playoff game. I was in the house when Kubiak’s Texans beat Fox and Manning’s Broncos in Denver in 2012, and brother, that game wasn’t nearly as close as the 31-25 score would have you believe. Kubiak is inheriting a much better team this time around, and that along with the experience he has collected over the past nine years should serve him well.
Maybe just as important is that the man isn’t fazed by the expectations facing the Broncos; in fact, he embraces them. In his introductory press conference today, Kubiak professed his love for the orange and blue and made it clear that he’s more than willing to put in the work to get this team another Super Bowl victory. What’s more, I don’t get the feeling that Manning won’t be part of that effort in 2015. Sure, Peyton isn’t going to be running a lot of bootlegs, but good coaches always find a way to adjust to the skill sets of their players and put them in the best position to succeed. The biggest change to the Broncos’ offense will be the implementation of Kubiak’s patented zone-blocking running game, which should be music to the ears of C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. And he may not be as ruthless as Bill Belichick or as psycho as Harbaugh, but players love Kubiak and they are afraid of letting him down. If that doesn’t convince you that he’s the right guy to instill this team with fire and toughness, Joel Dreessen will take a bullet for him right now just to prove it.
There are still questions to answer and many, many days before the next season will begin, so we won’t know for some time if Kubiak is the solution to the Broncos’ postseason woes. I feel confident that he will reward Elway’s faith in him, but there are no guarantees in the NFL. For now, I will take solace in the fact that the coach of the Broncos believes that he has the best job in the world and we as fans should be grateful to see such a prominent figure of our team’s history back where he belongs.
Home at last, home at last, thank God almighty Kubiak is home at last!