Gary Kubiak joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 with a partner-like relationship with now-Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. The two men governed the Vikings offense together although Stefanski formally held the offensive coordinator job title. The OC-by-committee relationship worked – the Vikings notched the fifth-highest scoring season in franchise history. 407 points on offense later – Stefanski was purloined by the Browns for a head-coaching role. Mike Zimmer turned to Kubiak to marshal the 2020 offense in lieu of Stefanki’s promotion.
Kubiak’s offense was better than Stefanski’s.
The Vikings scored 430 points in 2020 while the team’s defense urinated on the enterprise. Minnesota’s 2020 offense was the third-best in team history – only the 1998 and 2009 versions registered more points on the scoreboard. And, those are extremely memorable renditions of the Minnesota Vikings.
Earlier this week – in a move that was met with mixed reactions – the rumor mill whispered that Kubiak would retire, again. He previously won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in 2015 and stepped down soon after with a heart malady. Perhaps the 2020 Vikings defense has caused his innards to sulk.
His exodus from the franchise is not yet confirmed. But if Kubiak does retire, the team will seek its sixth offensive coordinator in eight years.
To be sure, that hire will fixate on continuity rather than new blood. Zimmer recently stated that this season’s Vikings were the most explosive crew that he has ever coached. If that is his interpretation, he will emulate this season’s philosophy with his next hire, rest assured.
A preamble: Klint Kubiak, son of Gary, is the indisputable frontrunner to replace his father if Kubiak follows through with retirement. Write that down.
Klint Kubiak leads the pack for two reasons. First, nepotism runs rampant in the NFL like conservative politics in Mississippi. It’s just the way it is. There is nothing wrong with it whatsoever, but it is part of the business. Zimmer likes Kubiaks. Klint is one of those – consider this coordinator gig his to lose if dad steps down.
More importantly, Klint is familiar with the offense. It might even be a genetic familiarity. Klint enjoyed a small coaching role with the Vikings in 2013 and 2014 before his father even remotely sniffed Vikings football. He ventured to Denver for a while but returned to Zimmer at the start of last season.
In his capacity as quarterbacks coach, Klint has shaken the two best seasons of Kirk Cousins’ career out of the tank. That alone deserves a tip of the cap. Genes and offense familiarity notwithstanding, it’s probably time for Klint to be awarded an offensive-coordinator job – regardless of his father’s retirement. He would assuredly meet the criteria for “young, offensive-minded coach” that some fans demand.
Should this arrangement with Klint Kubiak stall, the Vikings will pursue alternate routes of continuity. Not Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, nor Kirk Cousins want to “start over” with a fresh offense. Zimmer is of the mindset that the scheme was at its pinnacle in 2020, so he will not want to import a total outsider to rock the boat.
For better or worse, that leaves Rick Dennison as a contender. And, it would be arguably the most vanilla choice imaginable for the Vikings 2021 offense. To folks that have grievances with Gary Kubiak’s style of offense, Dennison will send them to the edges of skyscrapers.
Gary was the continual maestro of competent, profitable offenses. It does not matter if people think he is “stuck in the 1990s” – his playbook works. The Vikings ranked fourth in the NFL via yards gained and 11th in points scored.
Dennison has not created that sort of success – recently anyway. No Dennison-led offense has finished better than 19th-best in the league for points allowed during his last four coaching stops (2013 Texans, 2015-2016 Broncos, 2017 Bills). He had top-ten success in Houston before 2013, but it ended there.
The 62-year-old Dennison might strike oil within the Vikings offense, but it will require a full U-turn to that of his last four career stops.
Meanwhile, the team may [theoretically] swerve and hire an outsider. Use caution when generating internal excitement about this, though. It likely won’t be a 28-year-old, surfer-looking, longhaired cool guy from California that is building NFL offenses in his sleep. Zimmer would turn to someone more seasoned like Anthony Lynn or Mike Mularkey.
Various names will float around if Kubiak is serious about exiting the NFL. The Vikings pay Dalvin Cook basketfuls of money to run the football. Cook will run the football frequently again in 2021. Zimmer will hire a safe bet that adheres to Gary Kubiak-like principles – probably the chap with the same last name.