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When They Were Players: Gary Kubiak


*This article originally appeared in the January 2, 2010 edition of the Texans Gameday Magazine.

In a business rife with emotion, it's tough to learn much more about an NFL coach than what he says in a postgame press conference or how he reacts when the cameras find him during a game.

That's why it's fun to pull back the proverbial curtain and find out more about them, and to learn that a guy like Gary Kubiak is as down-home and agreeable as can be.

"He had all the abilities (as a player), and Gary is one of those guys you can't dislike," said Joe Gorski, Kubiak's teammate at Houston St. Pius High School. "He has one of those personalities. Even people I've introduced him to, or being out and introducing him to somebody, they say, 'He makes you feel like you've known him forever.'"

Rene Hancock, Kubiak's old coach at St. Pius, is among those rooting for Kubiak. He fondly remembers the beginning.

"His freshman year, he came in and he had a lot of physical skills, but he was only 5-9, 135 (pounds)," Hancock said.  "But he had those big size 11 shoes, so we had an idea he might grow. We decided to bring him up to the varsity because the varsity wasn't doing too good. In the second half of a game against Beaumont Kelly, he was 14-of-17 for 179 yards.

"I said, 'Hmm, he might be able to play."'

Yes, he could play. Kubiak started four seasons for the Panthers and set a then-state passing record of 6,190 yards in 1978.

"When he broke the state passing record, one of the officials stopped the game," Hancock said. "I sent the managers out to get the football. The officials said no – they wanted me to come get the football. I congratulated Gary, and Gary looked up into the stands and said, 'Can I go tell my parents hi?' That touched me. It was equally important that he go tell his parents. That's what Gary is like."

Before his high school days ended, Kubiak was named to the all-state teams in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

It was the competition he relished in high school.

"The one thing I always take back is that from a competition standpoint, we could always compete with most anybody in Houston, even though we were a 2A private school," Kubiak said. "Our programs were very competitive. We played a little bit of everybody. We thought that was important."

After his senior season at St. Pius, the name Kubiak was on the lips of most college recruiters, along with other names like Craig James and Eric Dickerson. In fact, the trio took a recruiting trip together to Kansas.

Kubiak was coveted by, among others, Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Kansas, coached at the time by John Hadl.

"He was here recruiting me and Craig James and Eric Dickerson," Kubiak said. "We actually all went on our recruiting trip there together. I wanted to stay close to home, and at that time A&M was going to throw the ball. Emory Ballard was leaving and Tom Wilson was coming in and I was a thrower, plus I loved the school."

Kubiak was what the new-look Aggies wanted. He set a Southwest Conference record by throwing six touchdown passes against Rice his junior year. As a senior, Kubiak was named to the All-SWC team and led the conference in passing yards (1,948) and touchdowns (19).

"Obviously, there were some big games," Kubiak said. "Playing Jimmy Johnson when we were in the Independence Bowl against Oklahoma State, I remember that like it was yesterday. We beat Texas twice, but we got our butts beat twice so we split. I remember playing against Lou Holtz. When I see Lou on TV, I tell my boys, 'Hey, your Dad played against him.' He was at Arkansas and we were in the Southwest Conference.

"It was a tremendous conference. There were Texas roots to everything that went on every week. All those things I remember."

Kubiak's career as a starting quarterback ended when he got to the NFL. He was drafted in the eighth round by the Broncos and joined shortly thereafter by Elway, who commanded the starting position throughout Kubiak's nine-year pro career. Kubiak finished playing with a 3-2 record as a starter with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was a part of three AFC championship teams.

At least, being the guy holding the clipboard served Kubiak well.

"You don't get the reps in practice, so you are more of a mental preparation type of guy and you are around the head coach so much," Kubiak said. "You are standing right next to the head coach, Dan Reeves, while he's calling the game, and I'm sending plays in and listening to the conversation. So you are kind of a coach and don't even know it."

Being a career pro backup gives Kubiak empathy for his backup quarterbacks, but not sympathy.

"I know what they go through, but it also helps me coach them hard because I am able to tell them about taking care of business off the field in the classroom," Kubiak said. "If you don't stay out here extra like you see Dan (Orlovsky) and these guys do, if you don't do those things, you'll never make it because nobody will ever know if you are ready to play until you get thrown into the fire one day. And you will get thrown into the fire, so you prepare just like you are starting."

Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison played and coached with Kubiak in Denver.

"He was the backup to John, but he was always prepared," Dennison said. "When he had the opportunity to play, he always did very well. He knew the game plan inside-out. He helped John when he was playing, and when he got on the field, he made completions and we moved the ball."

Dennison understands why the Texans have played hard through difficult times.

"When you play for a guy that you know cares about you, or you coach for him, you want to do all you can to help the organization win," Dennison said. "I think that's where everybody is feeding from. We know he has our entire group's best interest in mind.

"He knows how hard to push and when you've got to let up. I think he has a great feel for the game and what to ask of the players."

Kubiak actually wanted to play basketball after high school, and Hancock thought he could make it in two sports.

"He made things happen with the basketball that you can't teach," Hancock said.

Kubiak finally decided to stick to one sport.

"The big schools wanted me to play football," Kubiak said. "Some of them offered me a chance to play both (sports), but I think I knew when it was time to go that I was going to be a football player. But I did love basketball."

Kubiak decided to give coaching a try after his final year with the Broncos.

"I knew I loved it, and when I got through I knew I'd like to take a chance to coach," Kubiak said. "I knew it could be tough on families. I told my wife, 'Let me try it for five years and if we don't like what I'm doing, I'll go do something else.' So five years later, I was two years at A&M, one year at San Francisco and I was back in
Colorado, so she loved it there.

"The rest is history, so to speak."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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