The biggest question in the Vikings’ decision to hire Gary Kubiak as an assistant head coach and offensive adviser to coach Mike Zimmer is how his relationship will work with first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
But Mike Shanahan, who was an offensive coordinator for the Gophers in 1979 and will eventually be a Hall of Famer with three Super Bowl rings, including two as a head coach, has known and worked with Kubiak since the 1980s and said there is no question Kubiak will work well with Stefanski.
“I don’t know the coordinator, but I have heard a lot of good things about him,” Shanahan said. “But Gary can work with anybody. He’s very smart. You know his knowledge of the game, you know Gary being a head coach and being a coordinator in the past, he sees the big picture. His job is to make it work. Of all the people I have been around, I can’t think of a guy who is better than Gary.”
Shanahan first worked with Kubiak when he was an assistant coach with the Broncos and Kubiak was backing up John Elway at quarterback.
When Kubiak retired from playing in 1991 and went into coaching, his first pro job was with Shanahan in San Francisco.
“At that time when I was at San Francisco I had been interviewed and when I got the job [then-49ers coach] George Seifert had asked me, ‘Would you bring in a coach that you think would be the coordinator when you left?’ ” Shanahan recalled. “He was thinking there was going to be some opportunities for me to be a head coach in the National Football League.
“I said, ‘Well, I have the perfect guy, right now he’s at Texas A&M [where Kubiak was a running backs coach], but if I can get him I think he’d be a guy that can take over as offensive coordinator. If I can get him. That’s when I brought in Gary.”
A long-lasting legacy
The offensive partnership for Kubiak and Shanahan was one of the best in NFL history. They coached together for one year in San Francisco before Shanahan was hired as Broncos head coach and brought Kubiak with him as offensive coordinator.
They coached together in Denver from 1995 to 2005. The Broncos finished third in total offense in 1995, first in ’96 and ’97 and third again in ’98. They finished in the top 10 of total offense in nine of those 11 seasons.
They also won three Super Bowls while coaching on the same staff. The 49ers defeated the Chargers in 1995 and the Broncos won back-to-back titles in ’98 and ’99.
“We had a good system and good players to go with it,” Shanahan said. “Gary is a guy that was always on the cutting edge for offensive football and he has always studied the game. It has always been a part of his life.”
Shanahan said he had no doubts that Kubiak would make a great head coach, and he got that chance when the Texans job opened in 2005.
“Oh yeah, I knew he would,” Shanahan said. “That’s one of the reasons that I told the 49ers, when I had the opportunity, that he would be the first guy that I would recommend we try to get.”
Kubiak would go back to Denver as Broncos head coach in 2015 and, with Peyton Manning at quarterback and one of the best defensive teams in the league, win Super Bowl 50.
“When he did get the opportunity in Denver he took advantage of it and won another Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “When you have a guy that has won four Super Bowls there is a lot of good DNA there, that’s for sure.”
Cousins is the right QB
Shanahan served as Redskins coach and executive vice president from 2010 to 2013. He selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and coached him for two seasons in Washington, and he thought Cousins took unfair criticism last year when the Vikings failed to reach the playoffs.
“One thing about a quarterback is, you’re a portion of your team,” he said. “Regardless, I mean, I think the world of Cousins, but I think you have to have an offensive line and your defense has to play like they did the year before. When they don’t, usually all the blame goes to the quarterback.”
Does he think Kubiak and Cousins will get along?