(Reuters) - Calling the shots is something Gary Kubiak has been doing superbly for over three decades, first as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos and then in various coaching positions for multiple teams.
He has taken part in six Super Bowls, losing three as a player with the Broncos and winning three as an assistant coach -- first with the San Francisco 49ers and then with the Broncos.
Now back in Denver as head coach, Kubiak, 54, will have a crack at another Super Bowl -- the 50th edition -- in Santa Clara, California on Feb. 7 when he will try to mastermind a victory over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
As he has been doing ever since he returned to Denver in early 2015, a little over a year after he was fired during his eighth season as head coach with the Houston Texans, Kubiak has led by example with an emphasis on team unity.
Kubiak introduced a Broncos tradition, which he described as ‘Wise Words’, whereby any player or coach in the organization could end a team practice by uttering a short prepared statement of advice or encouragement.
In setting the tone, Kubiak came up with just five words that had a remarkably positive effect in the team’s locker room: “Life is fair -- keep working.”
According to Broncos insiders, one of the players later said of Kubiak’s statement: “It was brilliant, so simple but so impacting. I think it’s something that you see in our team’s play and attitude.”
While future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is widely perceived to call the shots on the field for the Broncos, the players themselves accept that Kubiak has taken full ownership of the team.
It was Kubiak, after all, who asked passing maestro Manning to learn a new ‘run-first’ offense in Denver while allowing the Broncos defense to shoulder a bigger burden.
And it was Kubiak who decided when to bench an out-of-form Manning this season and when to return him to the starter’s role -- on both occasions to the benefit of the team.
Denver general manager John Elway, who was the veteran quarterback under Kubiak’s guidance when the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1997 and 1998, knows better than most how effective the team’s current head coach has been.
“The bottom line is I know Gary. He knows what it takes, and has done a tremendous job this year with the team,” Elway said of his good friend after the Broncos beat the defending champion New England Patriots 20-18 in the AFC title game on Sunday.
”When he came in here, he had won a lot of football games, and to be able to come in and get us back to the Super Bowl has been tremendous ... he’s done a tremendous job of managing the quarterback situation.
“There is not a better guy for the job,” the Hall of Famer said of Kubiak, who also made his way into the league via the 1983 NFL Draft and became Elway’s quarterbacking backup in Denver.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue