- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The theory says there are just six degrees of separation between each of us and anyone else on the planet, that in only six steps we can be connected through common acquaintances.
It's only natural in a league of 32 teams that had about 556 assistant coaches in 2008 that the degree of separation among them, if there is one at all, is usually one.
Let us consider that as we attempt to prejudge the promotions and additions Gary Kubiak has made to his staff in Houston. Frank Bush, promoted to defensive coordinator, and David Gibbs, hired as defensive backs coach, each have extensive experience with the Denver Broncos on their resumes.
In a recent, scathing column in the Houston Chronicle, Richard Justice made fun of the franchise for its propensity to lean on people Kubiak and GM Rick Smith know from their previous NFL lives in Denver.
Justice wrote that Smith might not have trusted two staff members who were let go after the Texans' season ended -- strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley and head trainer Kevin Bastin -- "because neither worked for the Denver Broncos, had enough friends with the Denver Broncos or changed planes in Denver."
The strength and conditioning coach job is still open. But Kubiak's staff is otherwise complete and now includes eight assistants with Denver ties and 11 without them. (Relevant aside: Of the four coaches Kubiak let go, defensive coordinator Richard Smith was connected to the Broncos while defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and Riley were not.)
Now, of the team's four most powerful assistants by authority and title -- assistant head coach/offense Alex Gibbs and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Bush and new assistant head coach/defensive line coach Bill Kollar -- only Kollar has no Broncos connection.
That certainly leads some to say, "Hey, coach Kubiak, there's a whole, big football world out there that extends beyond Denver, especially considering that your mentor and the head man out there, Mike Shanahan -- also your offensive coordinator's dad -- was just fired."
Kubiak isn't concerned with perception outside team headquarters, but he was willing to outline how he looks at people he considers hiring or shifting upward.
"This is important and I've been doing it long enough to have coached with a lot of football coaches," he said. "And having some familiarity with how a guy coaches, how a guy teaches, him knowing what you expect and what you stand for, that's is important to me. I can't speak for everyone else out there. At the same time, when you're interviewing coaches that you haven't worked with or you don't know personally, I start pulling from guys I do know that may have worked with them, guys who know their work habits, know what type of person they are.
"In this business, coaches bounce around and we all kind of know each other one way or another."
The other three coaches in the AFC South are still sifting through some job candidates, too: Jack Del Rio has lost or let go seven assistants; Jim Caldwell needs a new defensive coordinator and special teams coach and could have more changes coming; Jeff Fisher needs a new defensive coordinator.
Kubiak wanted to revamp his defensive staff because he felt his team underachieved on that side of the ball, and this shuffle may come to define his tenure as Houston's coach. He's an offensive guy and his offense is working. Now the questions are whether he can hire the right people and help bring in the right players for his team to have enough balance to play meaningful games in December and beyond.
He wants to be more aggressive and have more of an attitude and identity, but knows the guys he's put in place now have to get some upgraded talent to make it happen.
An outsider like Kollar brings a fresh set of eyes and a different wealth of experiences, which can be a boon when splashed into what the Texans already have in place.
Kubiak targeted Kollar and Rod Marinelli for the defensive line job, prying Kollar from Buffalo after Marinelli landed in Chicago following a three-year stint at the helm of the Detroit Lions. The Texans coach wanted to bring in an experienced line coach who could be a resource for Bush, a first-time coordinator. He did not know Kollar, but he did know Marinelli, though not through Denver.
I figured Kubiak would lean toward telling any critics of his staff construction, "I know what I am doing." But he fielded that question with equal parts good humor and honesty.
"I don't know if I know what I'm doing," he said, pausing to allow for my laughter. "We'll find out down the road. But that [criticism] doesn't concern me. I'm going to surround myself with people that work hard and do a good job. If I know that about them, then heck, that makes me more comfortable and they know situations. If it comes from somebody I haven't worked with or have just gotten to know, I don't get too consumed with that, I'm just trying to put the best staff together."
Like he said, we'll find out down the road. Nobody will be complaining about all the ties to the Broncos if Kubiak's Texans do what Denver did in seven of Shanahan's 14 seasons.
I'm pretty sure Houston would take a playoff appearance half the time.