Some thoughts on Gary Kubiak's decision to go to Denver this weekend and interview for the Broncos' head coaching vacancy:
Won't Blame Kubiak If He Leaves
If he does end up leaving, I'm not going to blame him for going back on his pledge to stay with the Ravens in 2015. He issued that statement last Sunday night, before the Broncos and John Fox "parted ways" on Monday, leaving a job opening near to Kubiak's heart. He played and coached in Denver for 20 years. That's his true pro football home. John Elway, the GM, is his former roommate and one of his best friends. I have no doubt Kubiak liked coaching in Baltimore and meant it when he said he wanted to stay; if he does stay, terrific – no harm, no foul. But Denver is a dream scenario for him, and we all have those.
Why Denver Job Isn't So Great
Without thinking hard, I can gin up a handful of reasons why the Denver job isn't so great. The quarterback situation is unsettled, with Peyton Manning now taking time to decide whether he will return in 2015. Nothing ruins a job faster than uncertainty under center. Also, the Broncos are looking at a grim salary cap situation after going all-in to win in 2014 ... have fun with that. And needless to say, the pressure to win will be crushing. Fox is gone after four straight division-winning seasons because he and Elway disagreed over "how to get to the next level," which means win it all. In other words, the next coach will face a Super Bowl-or-bust situation, with the impatient fan base expecting no less – stressful circumstances.
Big Blow To Baltimore If Kubiak Leaves
It would be a blow to the Ravens' prospects for 2015 if he leaves. Let's not sugarcoat it. The organization is already working on contingency plans, and I'm sure someone with solid, even impressive credentials would end up in charge of the offense. But you can't match Kubiak's bona fides, his years of experience, instincts and mastery of his brand of offense. Sure, life goes on, things change and the Ravens might well be fine in the end. But my point is this: With Kubiak in charge for another year, the offense has a chance to take off like a rocket, doubling down on this year's improvements. If a change occurs, the transition blunts that momentum at the very least.
New Offensive Coordinator Should Change Little
If the Ravens do end up having to hire a new OC, he should seek to change as little as possible, i.e., continue running the system Kubiak painstakingly installed in 2014. It worked, to say the least, producing quarterback Joe Flacco's finest season, a stunning turnaround in the running game and a slew of team records. Its run-first philosophy is a perfect match for the Ravens' desire to play physical football. With all that in mind, I have to believe the Ravens will elect to continue to run his system rather than start all over yet again. The best-case-scenario hire is a Kubiak disciple such as Kyle Shanahan, who is available and almost got the job a year ago after interviewing well; or Rick Dennison, who coached the Ravens' quarterbacks this year and was an OC in Houston under Kubiak. That would minimize the transition.
Kubiak-Manning Not A Good Fit
If Kubiak does go to Denver and Manning returns, I'm not sure Kubiak is getting a quarterback well-suited to run his offense. Yes, Manning is one of the greatest in history, but mobility is hardly his best asset, especially at his age, and Kubiak loves to put the quarterback in motion. Can you see Manning running those bootlegs and waggles that Flacco ran over and over in 2014? I can't envision it. But again, Manning hasn't said whether he'll return in 2015. He certainly looked old down the stretch in 2014. I have no doubt the Broncos would welcome him back, but it could be Elway is willing to send a message to him with this new hire, that the team is planning for the future regardless if he is around.
Thank You, Gary
If Kubiak does leave, the Ravens should send him a thank-you card. Baltimore fans waited years to see the Ravens offense join the NFL's high-scoring party on a consistent basis. The 2013 season represented a depressing nadir. The hiring of Kubiak changed everything, brought the offense to life and changed the arc of the team's prospects. If he goes, he leaves behind a much-improved unit with a clear philosophy. That warrants a round of applause. Come to think of it, even if he ends up staying, and that's still possible, he deserves a round of applause.