Two days ago, I picked a horse in the Ravens' race for a new offensive coordinator. It was Kyle Shanahan, and he didn't get the job.
But when I made my selection late last week, Gary Kubiak wasn't in the race. There were other finalists. Kubiak wasn't even running.
In my view, the race changed dramatically when Kubiak presented himself to the Ravens as a potential hire. He was by far the most accomplished of the names that surfaced in relation to this job – a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator, a playoff-caliber head coach, a major name.
The Ravens announced Monday that he is their new offensive coordinator, and I think it's an excellent hire, one that will energize fans and ramp up excitement. They landed pretty much the best choice out there.
Yes, I liked what Kyle Shanahan brought to the table. But Shanahan's on-the-job OC training in Houston came under Kubiak, who was the Texans' head coach at the time. Basically, the Ravens went with the teacher instead of the pupil. How can you argue with that? It's a bold stroke coming at the right time, with the Ravens coming off a desultory offensive season, looking for a fresh start.
Not only are the Ravens bringing in a top-flight offensive mind to design the structure and call the plays, but they're also bringing in Rick Dennison –another former Houston OC, like Kyle Shanahan – to serve as a quarterbacks coach. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's best performances have come in seasons when he had a dedicated position coach.
There's no doubt the hiring of this new guard is all about getting the best out of Flacco. Again, it's the sensible route. As I wrote earlier this month, the Ravens aren't getting back into Super Bowl contention without Flacco taking them there. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. You need to be at your best under center to go all the way or even think about it. Kubiak's shiny track record with John Elway and Matt Schaub contains virtually all positives until things went south with Schaub in Houston last season. There's reason to believe Flacco will benefit, possibly quite a bit, from having Kubiak and Dennison around.
But Kubiak isn't just a pinball, pass-happy guy. Far from it. That's why I liked Shanahan so much as an option – because he was a zone-stretch rushing guy at heart, dedicated to a solid ground game. That's Kubiak, too. His ground game was so good in Denver that it won a pair of Super Bowls. He also had a good ground game in Houston. Having played the Ravens many times, he surely knows what they're all about, that they're always going to want to be physical and run the ball.
"Offensively, that's where everything starts," Kubiak said Monday about a running game.
"It's just a really good fit philosophically. They see football from the same perspective," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said of Kubiak and Dennison.
Frankly, there's little downside to this move. The only drawback might be that Kubiak doesn't stick around for long. He's a proven winner as a head coach, the kind who will be up for jobs, especially if things go well in Baltimore. Shoot, one of the reasons he wasn't in the OC race originally was he supposedly was in the mix for Cleveland's head coaching opening.
But a team can only go year to year in the NFL these days. You can suffocate yourself trying to think too far ahead, beyond your immediate concerns. The fact is, the Ravens had a need, an opening and a desire to get back on their feet offensively. They went all in, hiring a formidable guy, someone who will bring fresh ideas. Kubiak and Dennison come out of the Mike Shanahan Denver coaching tree, as opposed to the Andy Reid Philadelphia tree that produced Harbaugh and several of Harbaugh's recent hires, such as Juan Castillo and Steve Spagnuolo.
There are still tons of moving parts to settle, starting with the makeup of Kubiak's staff – potentially a delicate situation given Harbaugh's loyalty to his assistants. Then, of course, there's the matter of personnel, i.e., identifying the pieces that Kubiak will have to maneuver.
But all that will eventually get settled, and soon enough, the Ravens will take the field with a new approach on offense. The 2014 season just got a whole lot more interesting.