Gary Kubiak tried to get out of his own resignation.
Over Christmas weekend, when the Broncos were in Kansas City for what would be their playoff elimination game against the Chiefs, Kubiak reached out to general manager John Elway and said he wanted to meet - but as friends. Not as an employee talking with his boss. Kubiak needed his friend because he needed to be honest.
“I called and said, ‘Well, let’s do it tomorrow,’” Kubiak recalled. “And he said, ‘No, I’m going up to your room. So we talked.”
So, for an evening, they had the hard talk and Kubiak informed Elway of his desire to step down at season’s end and retire from coaching.
“He did try to get out of it and I wouldn’t let him out,” Elway said. “We still a had a week left so I wanted to see - because a lot of times after you make that commitment, you kind of get a look out from the other side and see how it looks. He was dead set that it was time for him to go for the next chapter in his life.”
Following the Broncos’ season-ending victory over the Raiders on Sunday, Kubiak, 55, tearfully informed his players and coaches of his decision, thanking them all for their work and their time and telling them all how proud he was of their accomplishments over the past two seasons.
He refused to announce his decision publicly, however. The spotlight after the game was for his players, he said.
But on Monday morning, he and the team made it official.
Inside the main press auditorium of the Broncos’ Englewood headquarters, Kubiak stood before a crowd that included his coaches and family. Wearing jeans and a button down - “I came in wearing jeans, I’m going out wearing jeans,” he said - and stared out at the “Be Accountable” sign he had installed on the back wall when he arrived in 2015.
“I’m retiring from coaching,” Kubiak told the crowd.
Health issues factored into his decision. Kubiak was hospitalized with a “complex migraine” following a loss to the Falcons on Oct. 9 and missed a week of work. Only three years earlier, as head coach of the Houston Texans, he collapsed because of a mini-stroke during halftime of a game.
The incidents were not the only reasons for his coaching exit, but they played a part. He could no longer handle the grind of the game in the way he’s always handled it. He could no longer coach in the way he’s wired to coach - all or nothing.
“It was a struggle for me throughout the course of the year, just keeping up with the things that I normally do and the way I want to do them and handling situations on a daily basis,” he said. “It was not one incident. But I am listening to the last few years.”
The last few years have provided a similar message to the one Texans owner Bob McNair gave Kubiak in 2013, when he fired him as the team's head coach.
“He encouraged me to take a year off,” Kubiak said. “I’m glad I didn’t listen. I’m glad I kept going, because I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of what I’ve been a part of here. But now I’m going to listen to myself.”
Monday, Kubiak spoke candidly, trying to fight back tears and often losing the battle. He thanked the team’s longtime owner, Pat Bowlen - “Mr. B is the greatest owner in sports,” he said, “and I got a chance to play for him, coach for him, be a head coach for him and he’s been a big part of my life.” - and team president and CEO, Joe Ellis. He thanked the fans, and the media, too. He thanked the faces he saw daily, if not hourly, within the Broncos, including longtime trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, who seemed to play a dual role as Kubiak’s physician at times.
He, of course, praised his coaches and players. And then he paused, trying to regain his composure before acknowledging his family - his three sons who “have always been so supportive of their dad” and his wife, Rhonda. “She kept me in one piece for a long time,” he said.
But before taking questions, before turning the page on his career, he clarified why he was retiring from coaching.
“Let me just say this: I’m doing great. I’m OK. But coaching is a very demanding business, a tough business,” he said. “I’ve always prided myself - I’ve been a head coach for 10 years and each of us as coaches, they can sit up here and they can probably tell you the same thing. We all have a routine. We all have a way of going about doing things, and I’ve had my routine for a long time.
"I’ve always taken a lot of pride that I could coach a football team, be there for the players, be there for the coaches, be there for the organization, do a game plan, call some plays on Sunday. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in the fact that I could do all those things. But this year I haven’t been able to do that. It’s been tough. And for the first time, I’ve had to tell myself you can’t do that anymore.”
Kubiak can’t go halfway as a coach, although he did try. Following the October incident, he tried to change his long-held routine and scale back a bit, but it was short-lived.
“I’ve looked at a lot of things - how to do this different or that different. But the bottom line, that’s how I’m wired,” he said.
“I’m getting out of coaching, but I've got a lot to give and I’m going to find something else to do and I’m going to wake up with that same passion and do that just like I’ve coached for the last 20-something years. I’ll find another passion. There’s a lot of things to do in life.”