Denver Broncos tight end Owen Daniels has worked for coach Gary Kubiak in each of this three NFL stops – Houston, Baltimore and Denver.
Kubiak stunned Daniels with a speech he gave to the Broncos last spring.
“At one of the first meetings he said, ‘I want you guys to be you. I want your personality to shine.’ I thought, ‘Wait a second. Who is this guy?’” Daniels recalled.
Kubiak was a bit of a control freak when he coached the Houston Texans. He had some success but eventually suffered health issues before being fired in 2013. He went on to be the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator for one season before replacing John Fox as Broncos coach last spring.
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Now he’s coaching Super Bowl 50 and functioning in a very different way than he once did.
“It was a little bit different in Houston; he was a little more in control. Maybe he had to be,” 10-year NFL veteran Daniels said. “We have such great leadership on this team that we can kind of check ourselves. It’s been a good situation for us.”
It seems some of this is about how Kubiak changed and some about how his circumstances changed. The mini-stroke he suffered in 2013 on the Texans’ sideline would make anyone pause to reflect. Kubiak would have been happy to continue as a coordinator in Baltimore, but the Broncos were a dream job, coaching the team he played for and working for his former teammate and close friend, Broncos general manager John Elway.
As a side benefit, Kubiak inherited a veteran team that could police itself.
“The (primary) leaders stayed the same: 18 (quarterback Peyton Manning), 94 (linebacker DeMarcus Ware) and 58 (linebacker Von Miller). They’ve been the nucleus,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak empowered those leaders to set the agenda and decide team policy. For instance, when Kubiak was asked about establishing a curfew for Super Bowl week, Kubiak said that was the captains’ call, not his.
‘This is your team’
Ware had never played for Kubiak before this season, but Daniels’ description of his evolution makes sense to him.
“He doesn’t put his thumb on everybody,” Ware said. “With the veteran guys, he’ll put it on us (to establish discipline). He has said to the more mature guys, ‘This is your team. What do you want to do with it? I’ll give you free reign to do things.’
“If there’s something we need to do, some kind of scheduling change, we come up with some kind of agreement and you feel good about that.”
Does this lighter touch have anything to do with the health crisis when he was with the Texans? Not directly, Kubiak said.
Kubiak suffered a “transient ischemic attack,” often called a mini-stroke.
“I don’t think it changed me as a person,” Kubiak said. “I think it made me change a little bit as a coach and how I go about things. … (I) kind of ran myself into the ground.”
Learning to delegate
So Kubiak learned to delegate, not an easy change for man of his makeup. It helped that Kubiak had a model – Ravens coach John Harbaugh – for a different way to approach the job.
“I think passing through Baltimore (and) working with a great organization, a great staff there helped me, I’ve taken a lot of that with me here to Denver,” Kubiak said.
The guy who has played for him at each stop sure notices a shift.
“I have not heard him yell as much. I don’t know if that’s just him trusting us more, in concert with the health scare he had in Houston,” Daniels said.
“Sure, we’ve had some meetings on the sidelines that weren’t so fun to be a part of. But he’s so mild-mannered (now). But when we’re not doing our jobs, when we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, he (still) gets fired up and lets us know.”