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Kubiak opens up at luncheon


When Gary Kubiak addressed a group of athletic supporters at the University of St. Thomas on Friday, he told them a story that few people had ever heard. It was the story of how his football career almost ended long before he became the head coach of his hometown NFL team, and the message that revived his career and drives it to this day.

In 1980, Kubiak was a sophomore quarterback at Texas A&M University. A highly-recruited player out of St. Pius X High School in Houston, he was told by his coaches before the season that they were going to redshirt him so that he could gain an extra year of eligibility. And so Kubiak practiced and trained with the team throughout the season while watching the games from the sideline.

Eight weeks into the season, things changed. The Aggies were in Houston for a game against the University of Houston in the Astrodome, as Kubiak recounted to the group of students, alumni and other dignitaries at the St. Thomas Champions Club Benefit Luncheon. Two of Texas A&M's quarterbacks had been injured during the game when Kubiak's coach, Tom Wilson, turned to him with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

"He said, 'Kubiak, get in the game.' There were two plays left in that game," Kubiak said. "And I said, 'Coach, I can't. I can't go in that game. I'm being redshirted. If I go in that game, I'm going to lose a whole year of eligibility.'

"As you can imagine, a coach fighting for his life, he didn't want to hear what I had to say. So he said, 'You get your you-know-what in that football game.'"

With Texas A&M facing an insurmountable lead, Kubiak went in and threw two meaningless Hail Mary passes to end the game. Just like that, his redshirt was burned and a year of his eligibility had gone down the drain.

Kubiak stewed over the incident on the 90-mile bus ride back to College Station. He decided to quit the team and leave school, and he drove to his parents' house in Houston as soon as the bus got back to A&M's campus.

The next morning, Kubiak's mother woke him. His quarterbacks coach, Greg Davis, was on the phone. Kubiak didn't want to talk to him, but he listened anyway as Davis, who's now the offensive coordinator at Texas, spoke.

"What he proceeded to tell me over the course of the next five minutes, I don't want to say it changed my life... but it's something that I've carried with me for a long, long time," Kubiak said. "He said, 'Listen, what happened last night was wrong. We made a mistake. That wasn't fair. It's our fault.' He took all the blame for everything.

"He said, 'I'm going to tell you something that's going to hurt, but I'm going to tell you the truth. You'll always have a built-in excuse. You've got one. So 15, 20, 25 years from now, when somebody asks you what happened, you can tell them about the bad deal you got that night at the Astrodome, about that mistake we made as coaches.

{QUOTE}"'But 15, 20, 25 years from now, nobody's going to want to hear about that bad deal you got. They're going to know what you're doing right now; what are you doing right now with yourself.' And it was the greatest piece of advice I got.

"He said, 'You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself, or you can get in your car and you can come back, and you can make something of yourself.' Well, I got in my car. I went back."

Kubiak would go on to become an All-Southwest Conference quarterback in 1982, an eighth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 1983, a three-time Super Bowl champion as an assistant coach in the 1990s and an NFL head coach in his hometown in 2006.

Not that it was easy. Kubiak interviewed to become a head coach five times, starting at age 33, before finally being hired by Texans owner Bob McNair 11 years later.

"You're going to be told no many, many times," Kubiak said. "You're going to be told many times that you're not good enough or that's not good enough.

"My first interview, I had a man who's passed now (former Cleveland owner Al Lerner) tell me that he had shoes older than me; I wasn't ready. About seven years ago, I interviewed with a man I respect more than anybody in the business, and at the end of the interview, I stood up, shook his hand and he said, 'You're not ready to be a head coach yet.' I sit here today working for that man; the same guy (McNair).

"So I'm telling you, when people tell you you can't do something, when people tell you no, you've just got to keep plugging. You've got to keep believing in what you're doing, believing in yourself and keep plugging, and things will work out for you."

Kubiak received a chance phone call from Davis, his old quarterbacks coach, as he was walking into the St. Thomas luncheon on Friday. It prompted him to share his story from Texas A&M, which he directed toward the student-athletes from St. Thomas' soccer and volleyball teams who were in attendance.

"I thought it was tremendous," said Todd Smith, St. Thomas' athletic director and men's basketball coach. "And it didn't just speak to our student-athletes – it spoke to me as a coach and as a person, and I think it probably spoke to a whole lot of people here that aren't athletes any more at all. It was about athletics, but it was also about life."

Twenty-nine years after he almost walked away from football for good, in the same city to where he once drove 90 miles to leave the game behind, Kubiak will begin his fourth season as head coach of the Texans when organized team activities start on Monday.

The Texans have come a long way from the league-worst 2-14 team that Kubiak inherited in 2006. He has established himself as one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL over the past decade, and has re-built the Texans with an emphasis on finding people with character and emulating successful organizations.

Kubiak knows the pressure to reach the playoffs will be at a fever pitch this season after two consecutive 8-8 campaigns. And you can bet that he's going to tackle the challenge head on, with no excuses along the way.

"We've got a chance some day to be that playoff team which we all want to be and to hopefully win a Super Bowl trophy some day," Kubiak said. "But it still boils down to continuing to battle. In my job, maybe once a week, somebody tells me I'm wrong – I made a poor decision, I called a bad play, made the wrong draft choice, did this, did that.

"But you've got to go back the next day and keep working and keep battling. That's life."

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