Gary Kubiak and I go way back. That’s based on having covered what had to be the most embarrassing loss of Kubiak’s playing career.
The scenario for this was created when Jackie Sherrill was hired away from Pittsburgh to become the coach at Texas A&M for the 1982 season. The deal made Sherrill the first million-dollar football coach — not $1 million a year, but the total package.
Sherrill’s deal was $1.7 million for six years, with a chance to earn $3 million over 10 years. Bum Bright, the chairman of the A&M Board of Regents, was given credit for negotiating the deal.
The contract for Sherrill was considered so out-of-line for college coaches that Loel Schrader, the college football-loving sports editor of the St. Paul newspapers, sent me to College Station, Texas to cover Jackie’s first game.
The opponent was Boston College. The Eagles were an Eastern independent, a lesser program taking payday games and anticipated losses on the road against big-time programs — much like FCS teams play Power Five opponents today.
As it turned out, the Eagles had an undersized, unheralded sophomore quarterback named Doug Flutie, and he lit up the Aggies in a 38-16 victory.
Moderate research this week revealed the losing quarterback that evening was Kubiak, a senior who had survived the firing of Tom Wilson to maintain his starting position with Sherrill.
Kubiak threw 43 passes in a comeback attempt, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
“I don’t know what to think,’’ Kubiak said postgame. “Nobody could’ve told me that we’d go out and get beat like that.’’
Thirty-seven years later, we know what to think as Kubiak is involved in the start of another football season:
The favor taking place with the 2019 Vikings comes in Kubiak, 58, accepting the job as assistant head coach/offensive adviser, not in the head coach, Mike Zimmer, 63, having offered it to him.
Zimmer had three offensive coordinators in his first five seasons. He was able to hire Norv Turner, a legend of offensive strategizing, at the start in 2014, and ran him off with a 5-2 record in the middle of 2016.
Zimmer was in on luring a hot young coach, John DiFilippo, from the champion Eagles as the offensive coordinator for 2018 and hung with him for 13 games.
Zimmer liked the coordinator he had in his middle months, Pat Shurmur, who was hired as the head coach of the Giants after the 2017 season. Now, Shurmur is in Year 2 of dealing with that mess in New York.
The Vikings had no choice but to give the coordinator job to quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski after firing DiFilippo. They had blocked Stefanski’s chance to join Shurmur as the Giants’ coordinator. You can’t do that to an assistant, then overlook him for a promotion.
Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman also could not overlook this: They are out the door if the 2019 Vikings don’t reach the playoffs — maybe if they don’t reach at least the division round.
Zimmer and Spielman needed to get real help for Stefanski, to save themselves.
Kubiak had won a Super Bowl as Denver’s head coach for the 2015 season, quit because of health reasons after 2016, and was working in the front office. Health-wise, he felt ready to return to the field, and it appeared as if he would be in charge of the Broncos’ offense for new head coach Vic Fangio.
He still would be in Denver if the Broncos had allowed him to have line coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani on the offensive staff. Fangio would not go along with that. Zimmer had no such qualms, and they are now Vikings assistants.
On Jan. 14, 2019, the Vikings announced the hiring of Kubiak, as well as his son Klint as the quarterbacks coach. In between, there is Stefanski as offensive coordinator.
John McClain, the Houston football writer, has known Kubiak since he was a four-sport star (football, basketball, baseball and track) at St. Pius X High School in Houston. McClain covered him regularly when Kubiak coached the Houston Texans from 2006 through 2013.
“I would say this wasn’t going to work for Stefanski, if it was anyone other than Gary Kubiak,’’ McClain said. “In 43 years of covering football, Kubiak has the smallest ego of any coach I’ve been around. He will be the best thing that ever happened to Stefanski.
“He’s also going to be a big help for Kirk Cousins. Gary likes to run the ball — he’ll have big production from a running back, always does — but he also has a system that creates easy throws for a quarterback. Cousins will have receivers to throw to right in front of him.’’
Any chance that Zimmer has hired his replacement in Kubiak?
“It’s my opinion that he doesn’t want to go back to being a head coach, and that his wife Rhonda would not want him to,’’ McClain said. “They have known each other since elementary school. They are a team.’’