For a quarter century now, Gary Kubiak has coached, coordinated or advised offenses in some form, turning himself into one of the most well-respect offensive minds in the game.
Yet his first year in Minnesota, partnered with play-caller and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, might be one of his greatest achievements.
Landing Kubiak was certainly one of head coach Mike Zimmer’s.
“It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I’ve been here,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “He’s very smart. I talk to him a lot about what he’s done as a head coach. We talk a lot about offensive and defensive football. 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.”
Since 1995, when Kubiak got his first job as a coordinator with the Denver Broncos, he has played a key role in constructing 23 offenses — taking two years off from 2017-18 over health concerns. Based on a series of per-play offensive stats, you could make a case that Kubiak has never been a part of a more successful unit, despite winning three Super Bowls in Denver.
The Vikings’ 6.1 yards per play is more than any Kubiak team in Denver, Baltimore or Houston. Their 7.7 net yards per pass attempt is also Kubiak’s career high. And their 4.7 yards per carry on the ground, using Kubiak’s wide zone scheme, is tied for fourth in the coach’s career along with the Broncos’ 1998 Super Bowl team that finished 14-2.
GARY KUBIAK’S OFFENSIVE HISTORY
|TEAM & RECORD||YARDS PER PLAY||NET YARDS PER ATTEMPT||YARDS PER CARRY|
|DEN 1995, 8-8 (OC)||5.7||6.5||4.5|
|DEN 1996, 13-3 (OC)||5.3||6.0||4.5|
|DEN 1997, 12-4 (OC)||5.5||6.4||4.6|
|DEN 1998, 14-2 (OC)||5.9||7.0||4.7|
|DEN 1999, 6-10 (OC)||5.0||5.8||4.0|
|DEN 2000, 11-5 (OC)||5.9||7.1||4.5|
|DEN 2001, 8-8 (OC)||4.7||5.3||3.9|
|DEN 2002, 9-7 (OC)||5.8||6.4||5.0|
|DEN 2003, 10-6 (OC)||5.3||5.9||4.8|
|DEN 2004, 10-6 (OC)||5.9||7.5||4.4|
|DEN 2005, 13-3 (OC)||5.6||6.6||4.7|
|HOU 2006, 6-10 (HC)||4.7||5.3||3.9|
|HOU 2007, 8-8 (HC)||5.5||6.8||3.8|
|HOU 2008, 8-8 (HC)||6.0||7.3||4.3|
|HOU 2009, 9-7 (HC)||5.9||7.5||3.5|
|HOU 2010, 6-10 (HC)||6.0||6.8||4.8|
|HOU 2011, 10-6 (HC)||5.7||7.0||4.5|
|HOU 2012, 12-4 (HC)||5.5||6.6||4.2|
|HOU 2013, 2-11 (HC, fired)||5.1||5.6||4.2|
|BAL 2014, 10-6 (OC)||5.7||6.7||4.5|
|DEN 2015, 12-4 (HC)||5.4||6.2||4.2|
|DEN 2016, 9-7 (HC)||5.1||6.0||3.6|
|MIN 2019, 7-3 (advisor)||6.1||7.7||4.7|
“I love the way the offense is, the way the scheme is, the things that he’s seen over the years running the offense,” Zimmer said. “The other thing, one of the things that Gary told me was when he came, one of the things that was important for him was he wants to keep the offense moving that way. For him to be able to come in and mentor a young coordinator was really important.”
Stefanski, who shed the interim label after calling three games in the 2018 season, called Kubiak’s presence “invaluable.” Kubiak hasn’t spoken to reporters since the preseason, and the true breadth of his impact is difficult to pinpoint, but his role as a collaborator with Stefanski has eased the 37-year-old’s transition to full-time coordinating.
“This is my first year doing this,” Stefanski said Thursday. “Having somebody that I can bounce ideas off of both during the week and during the game … I think it’s a really great working environment.”
Not only has Kubiak’s mentorship been influential on Stefanski but Kirk Cousins as well. The quarterback is on pace for the most wins of his career and the fewest interceptions as a full-time starter. His five-game stretch without a fumble is the longest of his career, thanks in large part to the way Kubiak has helped gear the offense to Cousins’ strengths by moving the pocket, rolling Cousins outside and developing a strong screen game.
Both Zimmer and Cousins pointed out this week that Kubiak has kept the quarterback accountable to playing faster.
“There’s a lot of timing and rhythm, which I would say is true of anywhere you go: quarterback coaches are going to preach timing and rhythm,” Cousins said. “I would say with this system, with Gary and Klint (Kubiak) and Kevin, it’s heavily emphasized and they’re not going to let you get away with not playing in timing and rhythm.”
The Vikings offense may also produce the greatest individual season from any skill player in Kubiak’s coaching career. Dalvin Cook is on pace for 2,264 scrimmage yards, which would exceed league MVP Terrell Davis in 1998 (2,225 yards) and Houston’s Arian Foster in 2010 (2,220).
“He sits in on offensive meetings. He works with every position,” said Cook. “He has his input on every position. In offensive meetings, he’s sitting in there and he’s giving his input on what we have going, and what he sees and stuff like that.”
Acting in an advisory capacity has been a change of status for Kubiak, who now provides feedback from the upstairs coaching box instead of patrolling the sideline. One of his greatest traits, though, has been flexibility.
“He’s open to ideas,” said Zimmer. “He’s open to things that him and Kevin talk about. He’s open to anything that looks like it makes sense. I think that’s just the type of guy he is. He’s a hard worker, team guy. The other thing he told me that he really missed was being part of the team. I think he likes being here and doing those things.”
Kubiak’s previous team comes to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday as the Vikings square off with the Broncos. While Kubiak won a Super Bowl with Denver in 2015, that team was carried by its defense. The Vikings are positioning themselves to make a run at one in 2019 with Kubiak’s offense suddenly leading the charge.