Gary Kubiak was one of the reasons the Denver Broncos have three Super Bowl titles.
When Kubiak served as Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2005, the Broncos made seven postseason appearances and won back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Fast forward one decade later, Kubiak became the Broncos’ head coach and led them to their third Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
It was sweet redemption for Kubiak and the Broncos, who had lost three Super Bowl games when he played behind the great John Elway in the 1980s.
It turned out Kubiak’s coaching genius was what the Broncos needed to finally exorcise their demons.
Truly, Gary Kubiak is a Mile High legend in every sense of the word. This is his incredible football story.
Early Life and College Days with the Texas A&M Aggies
Gary Wayne Kubiak was born in Houston, TX on August 15, 1961.
Kubiak is of Polish-American descent. His grandfather, Michal, one of thirteen children, migrated to Bremond, TX, in 1885, per The Gazette‘s Woody Paige. He got his first job as a cotton picker sometime in the late 19th century.
Michal moved to Houston, TX in 1918. He later married a woman of Polish descent and worked as a waiter and a baker as well as a Packer for Ford in subsequent years.
Michal’s grandson Gary fell in love with football when he became a Houston Oilers ball boy in the 1970s. He watched Oilers greats Bum Phillips, Dan Pastorini, and Earl Campbell from the sidelines, per The Denver Post‘s Troy Renck.
Gary Kubiak attended St. Piux X High School in his hometown of Houston, TX. He met his future wife Rhonda, a cheerleader, during their high school days.
Coincidentally, Rhonda shares the same Polish-American background as Gary. Rhonda’s Polish family had also immigrated to Texas.
Kubiak excelled in football, basketball, baseball, and track for the St. Pius X Panthers.
It did not take long for Kubiak to settle in as the Panthers’ quarterback.
Kubiak became an All-American high school signal-caller every year from 1975 to 1978. With Kubiak under center, the Panthers won three consecutive state titles.
Kubiak graduated from St. Pius X High School in 1979 and set a new Texas state record with 6,190 passing yards.
Congrats to former Broncos HC Gary Kubiak, who will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame this weekend in Waco, Texas.
Kubiak owns four Super Bowl rings as a coach following his playing career w/Broncos, Texas A&M & St. Pius X HS (Houston). pic.twitter.com/Lu8iNF8KY6
— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) April 6, 2018
He remained in-state and committed to the Texas A&M Aggies in his senior year.
Kubiak played quarterback for Texas A&M head football coaches Tom Wilson and Jackie Sherrill from 1979 to 1982.
Kubiak’s coming-out party was his six-touchdown performance in the Aggies’ 51-26 victory over the Rice Owls on October 24, 1981. His six touchdowns set a new conference record.
Kubiak’s 1,948 passing yards and 19 touchdowns led the Southwest Conference in his senior season in 1982. To nobody’s surprise, he earned All-Conference honors that year.
Texas A&M averaged barely six wins per season with Gary Kubiak on its roster from 1979 to 1982.
The Aggies won seven games in Kubiak’s junior season and beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 1981 Independence Bowl, 33-16. Kubiak eventually earned Game MVP honors.
Kubiak finished his four-year stint with the Aggies with 4,078 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions.
When Gary Kubiak entered the pro football ranks in 1983, he played behind legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway for the next nine seasons.
In the bigger scheme of things, Kubiak became a member of a Broncos squad that emerged as perennial Super Bowl contenders as the 1980s decade wound down.
Pro Football Career
The Denver Broncos made Gary Kubiak the 197th overall selection of the 1983 NFL Draft.
Kubiak arrived in the Mile High City the same year as highly-touted All-American Stanford Cardinal quarterback John Elway. The Broncos acquired Elway in a shocking trade with the Baltimore Colts.
According to Jim Saccomano of the Broncos’ official website, it was the first time in team history two rookie quarterbacks were on the same roster.
Kubiak wound up playing behind the great Elway in Denver for the next nine seasons.
Kubiak, who some pundits thought was the best backup signal caller of his era, played in his first breakout game against the Seattle Seahawks on November 20, 1983.
Prior to the opening kickoff, Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos could not improve Elway’s nagging flu symptoms.
Consequently, Denver head coach Dan Reeves tapped Kubiak to start in Elway’s place.
Kubiak wasted no time in his first start in the National Football League. He threw a 78-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Watson to give the Broncos a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
Kubiak then opened up the scoring with a seven-yard touchdown scamper for a commanding 27-7 Broncos lead in the third quarter.
Gary Kubiak completed 10 of 18 pass attempts for 165 yards, threw for a touchdown, and ran for one more in Denver’s 38-27 victory over Seattle in Week 12.
Kubiak earned a reputation as a reliable backup quarterback from that point onward.
It also became evident Gary Kubiak had the makings of a great football coach during his playing days with the Broncos.
When Kubiak entered his fourth pro football season in 1986, he approached rookie Broncos wideout Mark Jackson and told him to reach out to him if he had any questions.
Jackson told The Denver Post some twenty-nine years later Kubiak told him they were going to practice a lot during the regular season.
That simple remark boosted the young Jackson’s confidence for the rest of the year.
“It was a vote of confidence I was going to be on the team when I didn’t know nothing from nothing,” Jackson told The Denver Post in 2015. “I will always remember that.”
Exactly six years after Kubiak filled in for an ailing Elway against the Seattle Seahawks, the former pulled off a deja vu against Mark Schlereth’s Washington Redskins on November 20, 1989.
Elway was in agony in the Broncos’ training room after he’d consumed a roast beef sandwich earlier that day.
Kubiak responded with 123 passing yards and two touchdowns in Denver’s 14-10 victory over Washington.
Schlereth, a two-time Pro Bowl guard, noticed the camaraderie on the Broncos’ sideline during the game. He observed Kubiak played his role as backup quarterback to the hilt and never displayed any animosity, per The Denver Post‘s Nicki Jhabvala.
Kubiak told the Broncos’ official website in January 2022 that he and his teammates did not stay in hotels the night before home games. Instead, they got to spend the night with their families.
Kubiak, Elway, and Broncos head coach Dan Reeves discussed the game plan at Reeves’s house on Saturday evenings. Those meetings made a lasting impression on Kubiak until Reeves’s passing in early 2022.
Kubiak started in just five games during his nine-year pro football career with the Broncos from 1983 to 1991.
He completed 173 of 298 passing attempts for 1,920 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions during that nine-year stretch.
Gary Kubiak retired from pro football following the 1991 NFL season.
The Broncos averaged nine wins per year and won five division titles during Kubiak’s tenure as their backup quarterback.
Regrettably, Denver had an 0-3 record in Super Bowl games from 1986 to 1989. Kubiak helped turn the Broncos’ Super Bowl fortunes around when he joined their coaching staff in the mid-1990s.
Football Coaching Career
Gary Kubiak and his wife Rhonda have three sons: Klint, Klay, and Klein.
Kubiak embarked on a historic football coaching career that spanned nearly three decades after he retired from the National Football League after the 1991 season.
Shortly after Kubiak hung up his football cleats, New York Giants head coach Dan Reeves, who had coached Kubiak for nine years in Denver, tried convincing him to join his coaching staff.
However, Kubiak told Reeves he wanted to blaze his own trail in the football coaching ranks. With that, he started his coaching career in his home state of Texas.
Kubiak broke into the college football coaching ranks in 1992. He served as the running backs coach of his alma mater, the Texas A&M Aggies, for the next two seasons.
The Aggies won an average of eleven games from 1992 to 1993 under the leadership of head football coach R.C. Slocum.
Unfortunately, Texas A&M extended its Cotton Bowl losing streak to three games.
Kubiak earned his first coaching job in the NFL in 1994. The San Francisco 49ers hired him to become their quarterbacks coach that year.
Kubiak replaced Mike Shanahan, who recommended him for the job. Shanahan described his protege as a “student of the game,” per The Denver Post.
The two men previously worked together with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan served in various capacities including wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach, and offensive coordinator when Kubiak was Denver’s backup quarterback.
When Kubiak accepted the 49ers’ quarterback coaching position, Shanahan returned to Denver where he became the Broncos’ head coach in 1995.
Kubiak coached legendary San Francisco quarterback Steve Young and his backup, Elvis Grbac, in 1994.
The 49ers had a gaudy 13-3 win-loss record in Gary Kubiak’s lone year in the Bay Area. They beat the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, 49-26.
Kubiak earned the first of his three career Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach in the NFL.
Once the 1994 NFL season wrapped up, Kubiak returned to the city where he had begun his pro football career in 1981—Denver, CO.
Kubiak served as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator for the next eleven seasons. He also served as Denver’s quarterbacks coach from 1995 to 2002.
Kubiak’s one-year tenure in San Francisco impressed Shanahan, who lured him out of the Bay Area and pushed for his candidacy as Denver’s offensive coordinator.
During their eleven seasons together on the Broncos’ coaching staff, Shanahan admitted he learned a lot from Kubiak.
“Gary influenced me a lot as a coach,” Shanahan told Jhabvala in the fall of 2016. “I probably learned as much from Gary as I did from anyone.”
When Kubiak returned to the Mile High City prior to the 1995 NFL campaign, he was reunited with his former starting quarterback and close friend, John Elway.
Kubiak’s return to Denver coincided with Elway’s last four years in Broncos blue and orange.
The two men helped the Broncos win five division titles and reach the postseason six times during their time together as players from 1983 to 1991.
Gary Kubiak and John Elway on the Denver Broncos sideline with head coach Dan Reeves pic.twitter.com/O3eRvnQsAg
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) January 2, 2017
Although the Broncos reached the Super Bowl three times in four years from 1986 to 1989, they never won the big one.
This time around, Kubiak and Elway would win not just one but back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the former’s second tour of duty with the Broncos.
With Gary Kubiak calling the shots for Denver’s offense from 1995 to 2005, the Broncos became perennial Super Bowl contenders during that memorable stretch in franchise history.
Denver averaged ten wins per season during Kubiak’s tenure as offensive coordinator. The Broncos won three division titles and made the postseason seven times with Kubiak on the sidelines.
Gary Kubiak’s return to the Mile High City culminated in consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999.
Not only did Kubiak and company help the Broncos win their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, but they also ended their Super Bowl futility from the late 1980s.
At this point in Kubiak’s NFL coaching career, he had earned three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.
Little did Kubiak know he would take things one notch higher when he led the Broncos to another Super Bowl as their head coach one decade later.
Before that transpired, Kubiak finally earned his first NFL head coaching job in his home state of Texas.
Gary Kubiak returned to his old stomping grounds in the Lone Star State and became the Houston Texans’ second head coach in franchise history on January 26, 2006.
Kubiak succeeded Dom Capers, who went 18-46 at the helm from 2002 to 2005.
Kubiak steadily righted the Texans’ ship over the next few seasons.
Behind a core featuring quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Steve Slaton, wide receiver Andre Johnson, and defensive end Mario Williams, Houston averaged seven wins from 2006 to 2010.
The Texans emerged as serious postseason contenders in Kubiak’s sixth and seventh years as head coach.
Houston won an average of eleven games from 2011 to 2012. Not only that, but the Texans won consecutive AFC South division titles and made the postseason for the first time in their 10-year franchise history.
Regrettably, the Texans never made it past the AFC Divisional Round during that memorable stretch in franchise history.
The relentless hours Kubiak devoted to the coaching profession caught up with him during a game against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2013 NFL season.
Kubiak collapsed on the field at halftime of that game on November 3, 2013.
According to The Associated Press (via USA TODAY), Kubiak had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke. The condition stems from impeded blood flow to the brain due to a blood clot or constricted blood vessels.
The health scare taught the workaholic Kubiak, who typically put in 18-hour work days, to slow down.
“I guess it just makes you stop and think a little bit,” Kubiak told The Associated Press (via USA TODAY). “I’m going through a hard time right now, but it’s nice to go through any time and to be doing what you love to do.”
To make matters worse for Kubiak, Houston crashed and burned in the 2013 NFL campaign.
Injuries and other internal issues contributed to the Texans’ woeful 2-14 showing that year which tied for the worst mark in franchise history.
The Texans dismissed Kubiak as their head coach on December 6, 2013. At the time, Houston had lost eleven consecutive games after winning its first two.
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the son of legendary Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips, replaced Kubiak on an interim basis.
Despite the unfortunate turn of events, Kubiak remained gracious and classy. He even purchased a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle where he thanked the Texans organization and their fans for “eight great years,” per The Denver Post.
Kubiak’s players reciprocated in kind. One of them was Houston Texans tight end, Joel Dreessen.
“I would take a bullet for him,” Dreessen said (via The Denver Post).
The Baltimore Ravens hired Kubiak as their offensive coordinator prior to the 2014 NFL season.
Denver Broncos Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe told Renck in 2015 Kubiak was a player’s coach who forged tight relationships with his players.
For instance, Kubiak took Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to dinner shortly after the former became Baltimore’s offensive coordinator in 2014.
Kubiak never broached the topic of football during their time together. He wanted to know Flacco as a person, not just as a football player.
Kubiak also grew close to Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer when he coached him as Denver’s offensive coordinator in previous years.
When Sharpe’s final five pro football seasons coincided with Kubiak’s first as Broncos offensive coordinator from 1995 to 1999, the former noticed Kubiak knew how to pick his spots.
Kubiak had no issues telling Denver’s offense what it needed to fix. Sharpe also lauded Kubiak’s stellar work ethic as a coach.
“The one thing with Gary is that he will put in the work and absolutely will be prepared,” Sharpe told Renck in 2015.
Sharpe and Kubiak were teammates with the Broncos from 1990 to 1991. Both of them earned Super Bowl rings with Denver in 1997 and 1998. Kubiak earned them as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator.
The Ravens went 10-6 in Kubiak’s lone year in the Charm City in 2014. Unfortunately, Baltimore lost to the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round, 35-31.
The Denver Broncos made Gary Kubiak their 15th head coach in franchise history on January 19, 2015.
Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations John Elway, the quarterback Kubiak played behind in the Mile High City for nine seasons, gave him a four-year deal, per The Denver Post.
Kubiak inherited a Broncos core group that included quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, linebacker Von Miller, and defensive backs Aqib Alib and T. J. Ward in 2015.
Denver averaged thirteen wins per season in the previous three years prior to Kubiak’s hiring as head coach.
Although the Broncos won twelve wins with Kubiak at the helm, things did not come easy for the blue and orange.
Kubiak had to deal with various injury issues involving Manning, Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Ty Sambrailo, Ryan Clady, David Bruton, Jr.,
Volatile Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib gave credit to Kubiak for keeping the team together despite the daunting circumstances.
“Coach Kubiak, man, he kept us solid,” Talib told ESPN’s Jeff Legwold in February 2016. “He came in here and was straight with us, told us how it is, and put us in position to play.”
The Broncos overcame their obstacles and eventually made the postseason for the fifth straight year.
Broncos' Gary Kubiak is the 1st person in NFL history to make a Super Bowl as both a player & HC with the SAME team. pic.twitter.com/19SewNjio2
— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) January 26, 2016
With Kubiak calling the shots, Denver won its third Super Bowl title in franchise history. The Broncos beat Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, 24-10.
Gary Kubiak won his first Super Bowl title as an NFL head coach. It was his fourth Super Bowl title overall coaching at football’s highest level.
According to DenverBroncos.com’s Aric DiLalla, Kubiak became just the fourth head coach in league history to win the Super Bowl in his first year at the helm.
Kubiak’s milestone coincided with the great Peyton Manning’s final year in the National Football League. Manning retired after eighteen pro seasons at the end of the 2015 NFL campaign.
Kubiak received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas A&M Aggies in the fall of 2016. They retired his No. 9 jersey one year later.
Almost three years after Gary Kubiak had a mini-stroke as the head coach of the Houston Texans, he had another health scare in his second season as Broncos head coach.
Emergency medical responders took Kubiak to a nearby hospital when he felt lethargic and showed flu-like symptoms after the Broncos’ 23-16 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons on October 9, 2016.
Physicians diagnosed Kubiak with a complex migraine, per The Denver Post.
Denver won nine games and failed to reach the postseason for the first time in six years in 2016. It turned out to be Gary Kubiak’s final year as Broncos head coach.
Kubiak stepped down as Denver’s head coach at the season’s end to become the team’s senior personnel advisor. He served in that capacity for the next two seasons.
Prior to Kubiak’s first retirement from coaching, he approached Elway in the days leading up to a Christmas Day game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kubiak told Elway he wanted to speak with him as a friend and not as his head coach, per ESPN’s Jeff Legwold.
Elway tried to dissuade his former backup quarterback from retiring. However, Kubiak remained adamant and insisted it was the perfect time to step down and do something else.
St. Pius X High School named its football stadium tonight Kubiak Stadium. For Gary Kubiak, St. Pius is a family affair. pic.twitter.com/juK909oEeW
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) November 11, 2017
Kubiak’s alma mater, St. Pius X High School, renamed its football venue “Kubiak Stadium” several months after he retired as Broncos head coach.
The coaching bug bit Gary Kubiak again after a two-year hiatus from the sidelines.
The Minnesota Vikings hired him as their assistant head coach and offensive advisor prior to the 2019 NFL season. They changed his second role to offensive coordinator one season later.
Kubiak served as one of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s assistants from 2019 to 2020. Minnesota averaged nine wins per season during that two-year time frame. The Vikings never made it past the NFC Divisional Round with Kubiak on their coaching staff.
Gary Kubiak announced his retirement from the NFL coaching ranks on January 21, 2021.
“It’s been the honor of my lifetime to work for thirty-six seasons as an NFL player and coach,” Kubiak said in a statement the Broncos’ official website obtained. “I look forward to stepping away from the game and enjoying more time with my family and friends.”
Kubiak had an 82-75 (.522) overall win-loss record in ten combined seasons as the Houston Texans’ and Denver Broncos’ head coach.
Gary Kubiak is a member of the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame.
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