Speculation over Broncos coach Gary Kubiak's future heats up
DENVER (AP) Speculation ramped up Sunday that Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will step down after the season because of health concerns just 11 months after leading Denver to a triumphant Super Bowl 50.
The Broncos (9-7) closed out their disappointing season with a 24-6 win over Oakland (12-4).
Several coaches and players told The Associated Press over the past week that Kubiak hasn't informed them of any retirement plans. The Broncos declined to comment Sunday morning in regards to rampant speculation over Kubiak's future.
Kubiak, who has two years left on his contract, was evasive when asked Friday about his health and coaching future.
''Why, do I look bad?'' Kubiak said, smiling. ''You know that I love this league. I love the Broncos. I love to work. I'm all in on the Raiders right now. There will be time for reflection and all of that stuff next week, but right now it's time to focus on what we're doing.''
The 55-year-old Kubiak suffered a complex migraine on Oct. 9 following Denver's loss to Atlanta, his second health scare in three seasons. Doctors ordered him to take a week off and he missed a game at San Diego. He seems to have been in good health since returning to work.
He also suffered a mini-stroke at halftime of a game against Indianapolis in 2013 when he was coaching the Houston Texans.
He was fired at the end of that season and had a terrific comeback in 2014 as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, where he had planned to stay until Broncos GM John Elway called him following John Fox's ouster.
Calling the opportunity a ''game changer,'' Kubiak stepped back into the pressure cooker on Jan. 19, 2015, when he was hired as the 15th head coach in Denver.
He spent 13 seasons there either backing up Elway at quarterback or drawing up blueprints as his offensive coordinator.
He said at the time that his health scare in 2013 taught him to rely more on those around him. He also said he wasn't worried about the pressure of the Denver job, noting he thrived amid high expectations as a player from 1983-91, then serving on Mike Shanahan's staff from 1995-2005 and coaching the Texans from 2006-13.
Last season, he deftly managed injuries at quarterback, edge rusher and left tackle to lead the Broncos to their third Lombardi Trophy even though both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler struggled to run the offense. They rode their historically good defense to a 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50.
Kubiak's offensive philosophies are rooted in Bill Walsh's West Coast system featuring the zone-blocking schemes that the Broncos fine-tuned in the 1990s and 2000s.
But in both of his seasons in Denver, the Broncos have stumbled offensively, unable to run the ball and get much production from the tight ends.
With four new starters along the O-line this season, the Broncos again sputtered behind poor blocking and a battered backfield, where C.J. Anderson, Andy Janovich and Kapri Bibbs ended up on IR.
Under incessant pressure, neither Trevor Siemian nor Paxton Lynch really settled in at quarterback.
Siemian suffered injuries to both shoulders and his left foot, forcing him to miss 2+ games. In those games, Lynch, the 26th overall pick out of Memphis, showed he was far from adapting to the pro game.
If Kubiak steps down, possible replacements include Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Even if Kubiak returns, there are expected to be changes to his offensive staff after a season-long, head-scratching inability to start faster. The Broncos scored an NFL-worst 40 first-quarter points and had just two sustained touchdown drives in the first quarter all season. Devontae Booker's 11-yard TD run Sunday on Denver's opening drive was just the third TD in 45 possessions for the Broncos.
Slow starts meant playing from behind too much, and that, in turn, defanged their strengths: Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos also missed run-stuffers Malik Jackson (free agent departure) and Vance Walker (season-ending knee injury in camp) and their run defense slipped from top-3 all the way to 29th in the league in 2016.
Sunday's game against the Raiders is the first for Denver since 2010 without any playoff implications.
Immediately following a loss at Kansas City on Christmas that eliminated Denver from the playoff chase, Kubiak told his team the finale Sunday would be all about looking toward the 2017 season.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton