EAGAN, Minn. — While the Vikings have spent most of the spring adjusting to a new offense, veteran coach Gary Kubiak has been on the sidelines doing some adjusting of his own.
After stepping away from the game a few years ago to focus on continuing health issues, Kubiak finally felt ready to get back in the game, and the Vikings provided that platform earlier this year, hiring him to serve as a right-hand man of sorts to head coach Mike Zimmer, as well as an offensive advisor to new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
If that job title(s) sounds a little convoluted, it’s because it is.
In many ways, Kubiak is an omnipresent voice on the offensive side of the ball, using his 30-plus years of NFL experience to provide insight as the Vikings shift to a more run-heavy scheme. He’s also figuring out how to strike a balance between being a useful resource and being overbearing, knowing that Stefanski is the man calling the plays at the end of the day.
“It’s a different role, and I’m really enjoying it,” Kubiak said. “It’s been good. Not weird at all.”
As a four-time Super Bowl champion, Kubiak brings a wealth of knowledge to the current coaching staff. He broke into the league in the mid-1990s and made a name for himself as the longtime offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. His success in that role got him hired as the head coach of the Houston Texans (2006-13) before his coaching career came full circle when he took over as head coach with the Broncos (2015-16).
His vast amount experience in the NFL has helped ease the transition into his new role. He can relate to pretty much anyone on the coaching staff because he’s literally been in their shoes at some point in his career.
“We’ve got some good young coaches on this offensive staff,” Kubiak said. “Just being with Kevin every day watching him do the things I did for 30 years, and then sitting down with him after practice and going through situations, it’s been really good so far.”
On most days, Kubiak can be seen either standing behind the offense during team drills, or working closely with the quarterbacks during individual drills. He alternates between being hands on and hands off in his coaching style, though he makes sure his voice is always heard.
“He stands right behind the quarterbacks on every play,” Kirk Cousins said. “We can hear his voice as we’re dropping back.”
As soon as the play is over, if Kubiak sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll pose it to them as a question to his signal callers.
“He would say something like, ‘What’s the footwork there?’ “ Cousins said. “Instead of giving us the answer, he’ll make us process it, and I think that’s a great style of coaching. I’m excited about our leadership in the offensive room.”
It’s been a collaborative effort over the past few months, though Kubiak has faded to the back more often than not, allowing Stefanski to serve as main voice in most of the meetings.
“I’m just in there watching him teach,” Kubiak said. “He’s doing things I’ve done for a long, long time. I remember Mike Shanahan used to sit in his office and watch me teach. I remember those days. In a lot of ways I’m sitting in there watching Kevin teach every day. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m impressed with his work ethic and his passion and his ability to reach people in a lot of different ways.”
In addition to helping Stefanski on the offensive side of the ball, Kubiak has been a sounding board for Zimmer whenever he needs it.
“He’s an excellent, excellent football coach,” Zimmer said. “I think he does a great job with the offense and great job with the quarterbacks as well. It’s been really, really good.”
Asked how he plans to help Zimmer moving forward, Kubiak responded, “I’ll just try keep my mouth shut and do my job.
“I’m just really proud of the fact that he’s given me a chance to be a part of it again,” Kubiak added. “Hopefully I can help out.”