Gary Kubiak is a staple in Colorado football tradition. 2003 marked his 10th season as a coach in the NFL, nine of which he's spent heading up the Denver Broncos offense.
Backup quarterback to John Elway for eight seasons (1983-'91), he is one of just 15 NFL coaches to have ever won Super Bowl rings with two separate teams (San Francisco 1994, Denver 1997-'98).
Denver has had 24 Pro Bowl selections from the offensive side of the football over the near decade of Kubiak's reign as offensive coordinator, and is the only team in NFL history to produce a 3,000-yard passer (Elway), a 1,500-yard rusher (Terrell Davis) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Shannon Sharpe, ‘96 and ‘97; Rod Smith, ‘97) two years in a row (1996-'97).
Coaching came naturally to the 42-year old Kubiak and is something he had contemplated for many years as a player.
"I think I started thinking about a coaching career during my senior year of college," he recalled in a recent interview. "I wasn't sure if I would have a playing career or not and I enjoy the game of football, I enjoy the strategy of it, so I knew it was something I wanted to at least try."
Still, even with all that, Kubiak most recently made a name for himself because of the work he did for Denver in 1998, the year the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. His team set six offensive franchise records prior to winning their first championship, establishing new team marks for total yards (6,092), rushing yards (2,468), touchdowns (62), rushing touchdowns (32), points (501) and first downs (347), as the Broncos scored 30 or more points in 12 of their 19 games. Davis was the NFL rushing champion, gaining a franchise-record 2,008 yards to become just the fourth NFL player ever to top the mark.
"Watching Terrell Davis come in as a sixth-round pick and watching him work hard and achieve what he achieved was very special," Kubiak said.
Despite his accomplishments on the Denver sideline, Kubiak is best known by the team's long-time faithful as John Elway's backup for eight years.
The Broncos drafted Kubiak out of Texas A&M in the eighth round of the 1983 draft.
"If it was today," Kubiak says jovially now, 21 years later. "With the NFL draft only being seven rounds, I wouldn't even have been taken at all."
Kubiak's nine seasons (1983-91) in uniform for the Broncos saw him accomplish nearly as much as he has since. He was a playing member in three Super Bowl teams and appeared in 11 of the 14 playoff games. All told he suited up for 119 games for Denver (second all-time among quarterbacks behind Elway), with five starts over that period (4-1 record). Kubiak completed 173 passes in 298 attempts for 2,020 yards, with 16 interceptions and 14 touchdowns.
Bronco fans might best remember Kubiak's final appearance in uniform, when he relieved an injured John Elway in the 1992 AFC Championship Game at Buffalo and completed 11-of-12 passes for 102 yards and added 22 yards rushing, though the Broncos fell to the Bills 10-7. He entered the game in the fourth quarter and drove the Broncos into Buffalo territory three times, including an 85-yard touchdown drive that cut Denver's deficit to three points.
Prior to his year in San Francisco, Kubiak served as running backs coach at A&M, from 1992-93.
Does Kubiak have a place at CU? Even the man himself refuses to plan that far ahead.
"I guess I've never been much of a planner," he says. "I just believe in working hard and whatever happens, happens.
Why he'd fit
Kubiak's name has been mentioned in coaching vacancies in the pro and college ranks for years and the man has still remained true to Mike Shannahan and his Denver football roots. Most recently Kubiak interviewed with officials from the Dallas Cowboys before owner Jerry Jones hired Bill Parcells last year. He also interviewed when the franchise had another opening six years before that.
Dallas was very impressed with Kubiak's communication skills, an attribute which would suit him well in several areas of a vacancy at the University of Colorado, should the opportunity arise.
Kubiak was even mentioned among the possible candidates for the CU job prior to the arrival of Gary Barnett, but passed on even interviewing for the opportunity in May of 1999. However, in an unofficial meeting with CU Athletic Director Dick Tharp Kubiak seemed very interested. Then the rumor is Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen caught wind of the situation and brought it to a halt as the Broncos were focusing on the Super Bowl at the time.
Prior to that, Kubiak paid a visit to Carmen Policy in Cleveland to interview for the Browns job. In the end he came up short, but Policy had kind words for the Denver assistant.
"One of the things I can say about Gary Kubiak that impresses me the most is not only that he's a very, very good teacher - but also he loves teaching," he said.
It goes without saying that teaching goes along with a college football head coaching job, not just in the game itself but in life. Regardless of how the current scandal plays out, the Board of Regents and Dick Tharp in the athletic department will be looking for a state-wide role model who can single-handedly revert the university's reputation to where it once was.
If anyone can do it, it's Kubiak.
Why he wouldn't
Kubiak passed on the CU job in '99 because his "heart wasn't in it." Time's past, five years in fact since Denver won its last title, but Kubiak is a man with high expectations and it's hard to believe that he'd find what he was looking for at the helm of a controversy-ridden Colorado program.
He's might have everything to lose and very little to gain, and he'd be taking the reigns of what's going to be a national media firestorm this fall.
He's accomplished a lot, perhaps too much to take such a risk as to take over the Buffaloes in '04.