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John Elway pairing with former teammate Gary Kubiak no surprise

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos loaded up a private plane and sent it to Houston this weekend. The idea is it will return to the airport just up the street from the team’s suburban Denver complex with a new coach in tow.

Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, director of player personnel Matt Russell and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert traveled to Houston to meet with Gary Kubiak, one of the Broncos’ top targets for their head-coaching job. They will discuss everything from Kubiak’s impending contract to player personnel. The group hopes to return to Denver with Kubiak early in the week.

Kubiak, who just finished his first season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, is the front-runner to land the job that was vacated by John Fox this past Monday. He's such a front-runner that as soon as Kubiak said he would interview, two of the other candidates stepped away.

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and former Bills head coach Doug Marrone each canceled interviews with the Broncos as soon as it became clear Kubiak was in play. Kubiak had issued a statement last Sunday saying although it was “flattering and humbling to be invited to interview for a number of head-coaching positions,” he intended to stay with the Ravens.

But that was the day before a longtime friend, former teammate, former roommate and the guy Kubiak coached for four years wanted to talk to him about the Broncos.

This is all classic Elway. If an executive can throw deep on third-and-long with no timeouts, Elway has now done it twice.

He went all-in to sign Peyton Manning in 2012, with his now-oft-repeated “there is no Plan B.” And this year the Broncos, after a 12-win season, were the last team to part ways with their head coach, because they were still playing in the divisional round. That meant their options could have been limited.

But Elway had his target locked in. And it is no surprise to those who know Elway and Kubiak. From the moment Elway accepted Denver owner Pat Bowlen’s offer to be the Broncos' GM in January of 2011, it was expected in league circles that, someday, he would hire Kubiak to be his head coach.

Kubiak and Elway would be “like-minded,” which Elway said was needed when he talked about Fox leaving in a Tuesday news conference. Kubiak is a proven playcaller and offensive strategist whose players have lined up to praise him.

Jake Plummer, the ultimate of NFL free spirits -- the smart, accomplished, go-against-the-grain, challenge-authority guy -- said last week he wept when Kubiak left the Broncos in 2005 to be the head coach of the Houston Texans.

“No doubt, tears in my eyes, man,” Plummer said. “Kubes is tough when you need tough. He’ll explain where he’s at, talk you through it, but he’s so smart. A guy like that you wake up every day seeing he wants the best for you and that maybe you disagreed at first, but you see he’s right and you’re not. He pushes you, I mean, hard, man, but doesn’t bully you, and you see for yourself he’s right. A guy like that you want to play for until you can’t play anymore.”

Still, with all of the good Kubiak has done as a coach -- with the strength of the résumé he has built, with Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach from his time in San Francisco and Denver -- there will be some risk for Elway.

The one major criticism of the GM is he can be too quick to surround himself with friends, a golf outing of sorts, with football games on Sundays. Kubiak’s impending hire fits that narrative, so some will use it again.

For his part, Elway has said he believes in the people he hires and he will “always make the tough calls if it’s the best thing for the Denver Broncos.”

Kubiak will coach the team, whether it’s sooner or later, in the post-Manning era. That era will be the litmus test for the personnel plan and team’s roster. Those who know him well have said Elway believes in his heart that Kubiak is the right coach for the job and that this will lead to a Super Bowl win.

So although it is a risk and, again, there is no real Plan B, this is what Elway has always wanted.