PHILADELPHIA -- Gary Kubiak spent nine seasons in the NFL. He started five games at quarterback in his entire career.
This week, Kubiak is preparing the Denver Broncos to play the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. There isn’t a direct line from backup quarterback to NFL head coach, but the Philadelphia Eagles hope there is at least a path that Doug Pederson can follow.
The Eagles’ new head coach spent 11 seasons in the NFL. He started a total of 17 games at quarterback. That sounds like a lot more than Kubiak, but Pederson started all 17 of those games between 1999 and 2000. Those were the seasons he was signed by the Eagles and the Cleveland Browns to play while young quarterbacks learned the ropes.
In his other nine seasons, Pederson never got the call to start in place of Dan Marino or Brett Favre. Kubiak spent his years in Denver watching John Elway.
It’s encouraging that Kubiak is in the Super Bowl in his first season as head coach of the Broncos. But it’s a mistake to use that as the standard for Pederson to live up to. In reality, Kubiak paid a lot of dues between his playing career and his first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach.
After his playing career ended, Kubiak spent two years coaching running backs at Texas A&M. In 1994, he jumped to the NFL as the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners won the Super Bowl that year, and Kubiak was hired to coach quarterbacks in Denver.
That was 1995. Kubiak spent 10 years as an assistant in Denver, rising to the level of offensive coordinator. From there, he went to Houston as head coach of the Texans. Kubiak spent eight seasons there. His record was 61-64.
After being fired, Kubiak spent a year out of the league. When John Fox left Denver last year, the Broncos brought Kubiak back as head coach.
That’s where the similarity with Pederson is strongest. Kubiak used to be a backup quarterback for the Broncos, just as Pederson briefly played quarterback for the Eagles. Kubiak served as an assistant coach with the Broncos, just as Pederson worked on Andy Reid’s staff for four years.
But when Kubiak got the head coaching job, he had Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Manning is in the twilight of his career and the Super Bowl was the only realistic goal for him. Combine that with an outstanding defense coached by Wade Phillips, and the Broncos figured to be in the mix for the Super Bowl. Heck, they were in the Super Bowl just two years ago.
Pederson may have Sam Bradford, who has never played quarterback in an NFL playoff game. If not, Pederson is likely to have a rookie who may or may not be worthy of a first-round draft pick.
In other words, Pederson will have every chance to do something special as head coach of the Eagles. But he isn’t walking into the kind of ready-made situation that Kubiak inherited.
But Kubiak isn’t the only example. Other coaches have been former quarterbacks, even if they never spent most of a decade as NFL backups.
Jon Gruden was a backup quarterback at the University of Dayton. Sean Payton played at Eastern Illinois and tried out for NFL teams. He also played as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike before finding his way into the coaching ranks.
Being a star quarterback doesn’t seem to prepare anyone to be a successful head coach. Being a backup forces players to use their smarts and understanding of the offense to survive. That has turned out to be pretty fertile ground for a head coach to grow up in.
That’s the good news for Eagles fans. The less-than-good news is that Kubiak spent two decades coaching before getting to the Super Bowl. Maybe Pederson can find a short cut.