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Kubiak set to tackle big to-do list play calling would bring

2/9/2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If the head coach of a team that has led the league in scoring in two of the past four years, including this past season, is considering surrendering play-calling duties, it's worth a pause to consider what the Denver Broncos will do in Gary Kubiak's tenure.

Kubiak, formally hired last month as the franchise's 15th head coach, has said he would like to call plays as well for the Broncos' offense. He called plays in his eight-year run as the Houston Texans' coach and would like to do the same with the Broncos. He's called plays before, with the Broncos, Texans and last season with the Ravens, he's had success, it's a natural thing.

Here's how he put it, shortly after taking his new gig:

"Obviously that's something I've been doing my whole career. I love it. That's where my competitive juices flow, calling the game, those types of things. At the same time, my expectations are to have some people around me that I'm very, very comfortable with calling games, that I've worked with before. So if things work out, I think those guys would be very much involved, too."

A head coach calling plays on offense or defense is also a head coach locked in on a very specific, all-consuming job that focuses his attention, during a game, on one side of the ball. The lure is usually the guy got the head-coaching job because of his ability as a playcaller.

He's been good at it, good enough to get a team owner's attention. And when it goes well, the coach is a savvy multitasker who understands how to manage a team one moment and figure out second-and-7 the next.

The down-side is it's a lot to do, no matter how much you may enjoy it or think you'll be unable to find somebody as savvy as you are doing it. And details can get away on gameday -- a timeout here, a special teams substitution there.

It comes to light with multiple reports that Green Bay Packers' coach Mike McCarthy, as creative and productive a playcaller as there is in the league -- the Packers led the league in scoring this past season, just ahead of the Broncos -- is considering surrendering play-calling duties.

For Kubiak, it will be about managing a team that has not performed all that well in the biggest moments over the past three seasons especially, while fitting new schemes on both offense and defense to the roster he has. In short, there's plenty to do even if he does not call any plays.

Kubiak also had a health issue in his last season as the Texans' coach on Nov. 3, 2013. In a game against the Indianapolis Colts, Kubiak collapsed on the field just before halftime of what would become the team's sixth consecutive loss in a streak that reached 14 by season's end.

Doctors called it a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. It happens if blood flow to the brain is briefly interrupted, often by a blood clot or narrowed blood vessels. It is often referred to as a "ministroke," because symptoms last only a few minutes or a few hours with no permanent brain damage.

TIAs can be a sign a person is at higher risk for a stroke in the future. Just after he was introduced as the Broncos' coach last month, Kubiak said he tried to do too much during a losing streak, said he's learned from the episode and understands what to do moving forward.

And that, too, was something he has already addressed when it comes to play calling, managing a team and how he wants it to work with the Broncos.

"One of the things I've learned as a head coach is I need to be much more available from that standpoint throughout the whole football team," Kubiak said. "Sometimes being a playcaller, you may get a little tunnel vision in one ear. I can't do that again. But will I be involved with that? Yes, I'd love to do that."

Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who just called plays on offense in the New England Patriots' win in Super Bowl XLIX last week, said he thought he tried to do too much in his time as the Broncos' head coach. He was a first-time head coach calling plays on offense and essentially making the final calls on personnel matters as well, and it didn't end well.

"When you do something like that for the first time you feel like you have to run through everything and be in charge of too many things and sometimes that is a significant negative," said McDaniels.

For his part, Kubiak's hire of Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator is the key for how it all works if Kubiak calls plays as he plans to. Dennison was Kubiak's offensive coordinator with the Texans, worked with Kubiak on the Broncos' staff in Mike Shanahan's time as head coach, as well as on the Baltimore Ravens' staff with Kubiak this past season.

And it's Dennison who will significantly impact Kubiak's ability to create a comfort level with how things function on offense during the week and on gameday, to be "available ... throughout the whole football team."