Broncos' coaching search: Gary Kubiak the X factor?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There’s an important name in the Denver Broncos' search for a head coach.

It belongs to a guy who could tip the decision the Broncos make because of his experience, his credentials and what the team believes he can contribute toward Denver snapping its three-season streak of playoff misses.

Oh, Gary Kubiak won't be the team’s next head coach. But his presence could, and likely will, influence who ultimately gets the job.

President of football operations/general manager John Elway’s desire to expand Kubiak’s role is salient as the team tries to find its new leader and repair an offense that hasn’t consistently moved the ball and scored points since 2015.

When Elway was asked at the end of the Broncos’ 6-10 season if the offense needed upgrades, he said: “We’ve relied on our defense for a long time. I think that we’re still going to rely on the defense, but we definitely have to get better on the offensive side. That starts with some continuity. It’s going to be very important for us to get some continuity on the offensive side. This will be our fourth system in four years. That is something that we’re really going to concentrate on, getting some continuity. That’s what comes with the same system and finding the right guys."

There is a possibility that Kubiak, who stepped away from coaching after the 2016 season for health reasons, could return to a coaching role on offense. So it looks like the Broncos will hire a head coach whose background is on defense -- or at least not an offensive playcaller.

The Broncos have also blocked Kubiak from interviewing for coaching positions as Elway formulates what role Kubiak might play in the organization.

“We’ll see what that role may be, but Gary will be around... but it’s a possibility," Elway said. "His name’s been floating out there, so yeah, there’s a possibility Gary will coach again."

Kubiak's presence in the job search is evident in that, as of Monday, the Broncos have interviewed five candidates for their head-coaching job and not one of them has held a full-time offensive playcalling role in his career.

Mike Munchak is a former head coach who has been one of the league’s best offensive-line coaches. Chuck Pagano is a former head coach who came up on the defensive side of the ball.

Vic Fangio, the Bears' defensive coordinator, has been a defensive assistant in the NFL for over three decades. Brian Flores is the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator. Zac Taylor is the Rams’ quarterbacks coach, but Los Angeles coach Sean McVay is the team’s playcaller.

The Broncos project to have Kubiak and a younger assistant, likely with recent work in college football, leading the offensive staff. The aim is to have Kubiak mentor as the Broncos consider him for everything from offensive coordinator to an assistant head coach type of role.

“I respect everything about him, the way he is as a person and as a coach," said Broncos QB Case Keenum, who played for Kubiak with the Houston Texans. "I owe a lot of what I am as a player in this league to (Kubiak)."

All of the team’s candidates understand the Broncos have plenty of work to do on offense, including constructing a plan at quarterback given that Keenum has just one year left on his contract and the Broncos do not have a player they drafted at the position on their current roster.

The Broncos were 24th in the league in scoring this season -- 20.6 points per game -- in a year when nine of the top 11 scoring teams made the playoff field. The Dallas Cowboys (22nd in scoring) and the Philadelphia Eagles (18th) were the only teams outside the top 11 that made the postseason.

That's why Elway’s description of what he wants in a new head coach, if Kubiak is involved, could work for someone who does not have roots as an offensive playcaller.

“I want them to be great on one side of the ball and great at what they do -- whatever that position may be -- whether it be a coordinator or whatever they’ve done," Elway said last week. “I look for greatness on that side. For me, I look for experience. I want the guys that understand the game, they understand X's and O's but also have the ability to lead men. That’s a big part of it in today’s world."