There wasn't a grand plan to have the eldest of Gary Kubiak's sons follow him into being a football coach. Even when Klint Kubiak played safety at Colorado State, the vision of what he's now become — the tireless coach arriving at 4 a.m. to the team facility — was both close by and light years away.
"I never wanted to coach," he said by phone recently. "My dad worked a lot of hours, so I wanted to get a job where I can be around a little bit more."
Until Kubiak's NFL-playing dreams fizzled. His path to replacing his father as the Vikings' offensive coordinator at age 34 wound through four offensive systems with seven different head coaches on four teams.
It started with an itch as an out-of-work player. He became a grad assistant at Texas A&M, his dad's alma mater, while pursuing a master's degree, figuring he could always stop coaching and just study.
But he was sold immediately by his first task: working the same youth camp he'd once attended as a grade schooler.
"My first gig," Kubiak said. "Stay at the dorms, sell Gatorade, all the little things. It was just being on the field with the kids and seeing how excited they were about the game and getting to be a little bit a part of their enjoyment was special. It stuck."
As Kubiak takes the reins of the Vikings offense, former colleagues say they expected this rise, adding that he earned it through a typical coaching route of long hours and often thankless work that overshadows notions about being a coach's son. His influences stretch beyond his four-time Super Bowl-winning father, as he built his acumen for three teams over six years before the Kubiaks were on the same staff.
Kubiak's work ethic and knowledge will command a room of players, said friend and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.
"Players right away want to know what you know," said Stefanski, the NFL's Coach of the Year. "They're looking at you. They're judging your football acumen. It's so obvious with Klint that he's prepared and is willing to put in the work to get his guys to understand."
Building his own name
As a player, Kubiak was a two-star recruit from Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo., turned cerebral Colorado State safety lining up teammates on defense. Injuries cut short multiple seasons. He had three interceptions, but one particularly resonates.
"I mention it all the time to Case [Keenum]," Stefanski said. "Just so he knows that I'm aware he got picked off by a long-haired safety from Colorado State."
Keenum was leading a two-minute drill for Houston in September 2008 when Kubiak intercepted him in the end zone to seal a 28-25 win. Surely it was discussed in the 2018 Broncos quarterback room they shared?
"I never brought it up, I made it a point," Kubiak said. "Keenum did a lot better than I did after that game as far as a football career, so I have nothing to say."
Kubiak's NFL playing days lasted one minicamp, for Mike Shanahan in Washington. After that, he called his father and said it was over. He soon started dating Tessa, a former Colorado State volleyball player who is now mother of their three children, and began visiting her family in Balaton, Minn. The area's pheasant hunting is still a bye-week getaway for Kubiak.
There, his last name didn't carry much weight. After three years at Texas A&M, Kubiak got his first NFL job as a quality control assistant for the Vikings in 2013 and '14. He was wary of the possible negative perception about being a coach's son. A recent NFL diversity report identified cronyism as a "systemic problem" that is detrimental to equity in hiring.
"Initial thought, like with all young coaches, is, 'Oh, here comes this guy that's there because of his last name,' " said Ryan Silverfield, the Memphis head coach and a Vikings assistant from 2008 to 2013. "From the very get-go, he worked his absolute butt off. He's a grinder. He's smart, a hard worker."
With Kubiak, "you'd have no idea who his dad was," Silverfield added.
Sounds like a lesson from Gary Kubiak, the patriarch of a coaching family tree with three sons employed by different NFL teams after Klay was hired last month by the 49ers. He'd often impart that respect is individually earned.
"I did always preach that to them," Gary Kubiak said. "You're going to put in a ton of hours. You're not going to make a lot of money. You're going to have to prove to people it's something you really want."
A 2015 detour to Lawrence, Kan., where Kubiak was hired as receivers coach by former Texas A&M colleague David Beaty, proved his desire. It was a step up the ladder — his own position room — but it was the bottom rung of the Big 12 at a Kansas program that still hasn't won more than three games since 2009.
The Jayhawks went 0-12 in Kubiak's only year there.
"When it's sunny and 70 degrees, you don't really find out about people," said Rob Likens, former Kansas offensive coordinator. "But you get into a situation and you're very prideful and you're 0-12, you find out everything.
"That's where I knew Klint Kubiak was going to be an all-star in the profession."
Likens was struck by Kubiak's lack of ego and how he approached players, whom Kubiak encouraged to have a voice.
Kubiak says his season at Kansas was one of his favorite years because coaches like Likens, now the Miami Hurricanes' receivers coach, nurtured his desire to grow. Kubiak would insist on staying for meetings that didn't involve the receivers coach. His duties quickly grew beyond his job title.
"It wasn't very long at all where he's now contributing, having a voice in the run game," Likens said.
Like his dad, Kubiak is calm if somewhat understated. Gary Kubiak said his son "might be even more quiet than me." But Kubiak's connections with players were evident in Kansas' 2015 recruiting class, which included his courting of current Washington Football Team receiver Steven Sims Jr.
"You don't have to have a big, outgoing personality or look-at-me type," said Zach Yenser, former Jayhawks offensive line coach. "That's not Klint. He just works his butt off and keeps his mouth shut, speaks up when he has a question or whatever he needs to say. He just outworks everybody."
'So many influences'
By the time Kubiak, then 29, was hired by his father for the first time in 2016, he had a varied foundation built by lessons from such coaches as Mike Sherman, Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury at Texas A&M, and Norv Turner in Minnesota.
Joining his dad with the Broncos started five straight years of working with quarterbacks, including the past two in Minnesota with Kirk Cousins. That served as a sort of graduate studies for his new role as coordinator. Red-zone and two-minute presentations were part of his duties for the Vikings offense.
"[Denver] is where I started to teach him to coach quarterbacks, around Greg Knapp," Gary Kubiak said. "That's where he really got his start understanding how to coach quarterbacks and coach offense, become a play-caller, all those types of things."
But Klint hasn't called plays outside preseason games, and coach Mike Zimmer has a run-centered vision for the offense. Aiding Kubiak is his continuity with Cousins.
"[Cousins] has heard that voice," Stefanski said. "You've got to speak the same language. You understand the things he likes, and you understand some of the things he maybe doesn't like. I think that's a really big part of play calling."
Kubiak was hired to keep the same offensive system, but he said he's excited to make his imprint while the staff crafts the 2021 playbook this winter. He's learned under four other offensive systems — West Coast, Air Coryell, Air Raid and Ron Erhardt — outside of the Kubiak family umbrella.
"I'm so fortunate to have so many influences," Kubiak said, "and, for me, I want to be that to someone someday."