Gary Kubiak oversaw 22,316 offensive snaps in 22 NFL seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach.
He ran the ball 10,406 times. That’s 47 percent. Plenty balanced enough to saddle up and join Mike Zimmer’s old-school posse as the Vikings’ new assistant head coach/offensive adviser.
Will the 57-year-old Kubiak and the 62-year-old Zimmer work together harmoniously forever and ever, amen?
Will their 48 combined years of NFL coaching experience on opposite sides of the ball form some kind of AARP-approved superhero force that defeats the growing invasion of whippersnappers and their trendy, college-style offenses?
Did Zimmer keep his word that he’d do a better job making sure he didn’t commit another John DeFilippo-sized error in hiring offensive coaches that fit him like a toddler’s onesie?
DeFilippo, 40, was one of those overanxious whippersnappers with visions of spending an autonomous year running his college-style offense, winning a Super Bowl and becoming a head coach in 2019.
He came from a different system in Philadelphia. In 2015, as Browns offensive coordinator, he ran the ball on only 38.4 percent of 989 snaps.
Zimmer couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
“We do a lot of research on guys, and guys’ names pop up and pop up and pop up,” Zimmer said after the Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. “You kind of assume that’s the right way, but it may not be the right way for your particular football team.”
DeFilippo lasted 13 games, running the ball on 34.3 percent of 798 snaps. He was replaced by Kevin Stefanski, who ended the season by running the ball 83 times, passing it 82 times and getting the interim tag removed with only three games as a play-caller.
Stefanski is 36. But he’s more old school and good soldier in Zimmer’s eyes. More in tune with the West Coast offense that he learned under Brad Childress, Bill Musgrave and Pat Shurmur. And will continue learning and fine tuning with Kubiak guiding him while Zimmer ideally returns all his attention back to a defense that slipped from first in points allowed (15.8) to ninth (21.3).
Most people consider Kubiak’s offense a running offense. But it’s really just more of a traditional offense that runs to set up the pass. Right or wrong, it falls in step with Zimmer’s desire for balance, complementary ball possession and the play-action deep-throw opportunities that it creates.
Kubiak ran the ball at least 40 percent of the time in 11 seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator (1995-05), eight years as Houston’s head coach (2006-13), one year as Ravens offensive coordinator (2014) and two years as Broncos head coach (2015-16). He ran it more than 50 percent of the time in six of those 22 seasons.
If anyone knows what running the ball can do for a team, it’s a guy who spent more than two decades with John Elway in Denver.
Kubiak was Elway’s backup when the Hall of Fame quarterback lost three Super Bowls in four years in the late ’80s. In 1989, the Broncos had the No. 1 scoring defense (14.1) when they were crushed 55-10 by the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Eight years later, Kubiak was Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator when Elway’s career ended with him riding Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis to back-to-back Super Bowls as Davis rushed for 3,758 yards and 36 touchdowns in 31 games.
Of course, the NFL is viewed by many as a different game now. A game that’s best played with new-age offenses using RPOs (run-pass options), sleight-of-hand misdirection and unconventional thinking.
The Broncos certainly feel that way and made it loud and clear when they pulled a 180 and turned their back on Kubiak’s presumed return as offensive coordinator after a two-year retirement.
Kubiak and new coach Vic Fangio — the 60-year-old former Bears defensive coordinator — couldn’t see eye to eye on offensive style, philosophy or assistants Kubiak wanted to hire. And old friend Elway didn’t intercede.
That means Elway sided with Fangio over a guy who had helped Denver and Elway win all three of their Super Bowls. He sided with the defensive-minded 60-something head coach who thinks Kubiak’s approach is outdated.
Meanwhile, 914 miles northeast of Denver there’s another defensive-minded 60-something head coach. He sees no expiration date on Kubiak’s approach. He sees someone who has posted a top-10 scoring offense 15 times in 22 years as a head coach or coordinator. And he sees that fitting well with a team that just finished 19th in scoring in a season when the top four scoring teams all advanced to the conference finals.
It’s a good fit. Whether it’s a successful one will depend on a lot of variables that start with building Kubiak and Stefanski a better offensive line.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org