The saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, is especially true in Denver. If you want to know how the men who create and shape our team ended up on the Broncos, look no further than Jack Elway, Sonny Lubick and John Beake.
This piece was conceived as a virtual way for Denver fans to meet the coaches, see what makes them tick and how they ended up in Denver. Along the way, anecdotes will be shared that give glimpses into the locker room and why we won the SB. The biggest ah-ha, came from James Cregg.
You’ll find a team that is full of branches from the Tom Landry and Bill Walsh dynasties. A coaching tree, that isn’t very big, but it is powerful. Inter-lapping circles of determined men born to coach.
Once Upon a Time, in a Montana town, Jack Elway and Sonny Lubick became high school coaches. A friendship spanning decades is formed. The Elways and Lubicks become such close friends that Sonny’s daughter babysat for Jack’s daughter. When Sonny landed a job at the University of Miami, Jana Elway bought their house. You’ll see why this matters and how these two men ended up growing a Super Bowl caliber franchise. A franchise with their fingerprints etched in the trophy cases gracing the lobby in Englewood, Colorado.
Before Sonny became the head coach at Colorado State University, he was there first as an offensive coordinator. During this time, his friend, Broncos scout and eventual general manager, John Beake, was part of the group that acquired John Elway. One can’t help but assume that Sonny was a conduit between the Elway’s and the Broncos. After leaving CSU, he is hired at Stanford, by Jack Elway.
Beake is part of the group that hired Dan Reeves, a direct and longtime disciple of Tom Landry. Here the interlocking coaching chain begins. While not all of our coaches have direct ties to these patriarchs, most do.
As you read, you’ll get a true sense of the family Jack, Sonny, Beake and John Elway have built. A family started by a meeting of the right men, at the right time. A family with several blood relations, but also many adopted ones, a tight knit family born, in a strange way, in a small Montana town. A family of coaches that oddly only covers a handful of NFL teams. Very few franchises have such a small circle.
When Beake and his group, brought in John and Jack Elway, Gary Kubiak, plus hired Dan Reeves, the seeds were sown for the very coaches and style we have today. A style that as time goes by, should be called, The Denver Scheme.
While Wade Phillips did grow up the Son of Bum, he also has ties to the Cowboys and Tom Landry. He has shared a spot on coaching staffs with Dan Reeves, Bill Walsh, Mike Shanahan, Buddy Ryan, and Marv Levy. His coaching style has morphed into his own, taking the best of those he learned under and from. It’s no accident Denver’s DEEEfense was numero uno, it was coached by a man who has had the rare opportunity to work with some of the best names in the NFL. Someday, his name and Gary Kubiak, will be added to a Hall of Fame list.
Wade is a curious mixture. He loves to dance, is upbeat and has a great sense of humor, but coaches some of the most aggressive men on the planet to be brutal. He’s an anomaly. An old guy who stays in tune with young men. Some young enough to be his grandsons. He may be grandpa, but his mind thinks like a rookie. This very unusual combo allows him to connect with his players. They trust him and he trusts them back. When your defensive coordinator only needs to use half of his play book, you know something special is happening.
Like Wade, Gary is a Texas boy, was also hired by the Broncos, Cowboys and Houston. In fact, he was a ball boy for Bum when he first met Wade. Again like Wade, football is a family affair in the Kubiak home. All three sons, Klint, Klay and Klien played high school ball in the greater Denver area and they, too played college ball. Klay and Klint at TCU and Klien at Rice. Klint and Klien are both on the Broncos staff, like Wade was on Bum’s. Coaching is something they’re all passionate about and why they wake up in the morning. They’re born to coach. It’s who they are.
We all know Gary’s story with the Broncos and Texans, but few know about him being Steve Young‘s quarterback coach. That it was Mike Shanahan who persuaded Bill Walsh’s long time OC, George Seifert (eventual 49er HC) to add Gary to the staff. The combo of Shanny and Kubes led to a SB victory and Young’s MVP season. Steve once described Gary as, “quietly vicious”. An extremely competitive guy who’s nurturing, but also ferocious. With traits like that, no wonder he and Elway are simpatico.
After seeing what they did with Young and the 49er’s offense, owner Eddie DeBartolo tried to keep the fearsome duo, but couldn’t compete with what Denver was offering them. If you’re not excited about what Kubiak can do with Paxton Lynch, and our offense, it’s time to be a Jetsfan.
Rick Dennison, a Ft Collins and CSU linebacker, played nine years as a LB for the Broncos during the Beake and Reeves’ years. A civil engineer and former math teacher, it’s not surprising players have called him, “one intellectual guy”. He got his first NFL coaching job from Mike Shanahan as an offensive assistant. During this time, he, Gary, Brian Pariani and Greg Robinson all held positions with the Broncos.
How Rick went from a linebacker to an offensive line, offensive coordinator and even a quarterback coach (a position he’s never played) can be traced to another frequent Bronco coach and advisor, Alex Gibbs. Many attribute the Zone Block Scheme to him, at the very least, fine tuning it. One the Broncos used to SB success when Alex was the offensive line coach under Shanny. Elway surely didn’t forget when he brought Alex back as an advisor. Obviously, Kubes didn’t, either. Kubiak is a firm believer in the ZBS. Rico and Gary have been a tandem team using what they learned from Alex on the Texans, Ravens and the Broncos (again).
James Cregg is another ripple from Sonny Lubick who hired him as a student and grad assistant at CSU where he played as an offensive lineman. It was Sonny who gave James advice he never forgot: if he wanted to be a coach, he’d need to learn the defensive side. He took that advice and the job. He’s said it was the best advice he ever received. He spent a year at Tennessee as the offensive line coach where only 12 sacks were allowed, a stat that didn’t escape Peyton Manning.
James gave a glimpse into what made the Broncos tick and win, when he said that they believed in each other, had a close bond, had the confidence that they would win and that belief grew as the playoffs went on.
We weren’t going to lose.
The players and coaches had the mindset that they would win a world championship and it was preached day in and day out. They fed off each other.
One wonders what would happen to a player who lost this belief? Who succumbed to doubt, pessimism during a must-win game? Would he lose his huddle and his job? Negativity is more destructive and contagious to a franchise than leprosy, it eats at the soul of a team.
When Gary became the Texans’ Head Coach, he brought along Brian Pariani and Rick “Rico” Dennison. He added future (and past) Broncos coaches: Reggie Herring, Greg Knapp, Marc Lubick, Bill Kollar and Wade Phillips. Vance Joseph, was also on Gary’s staff. Many recall that Kubiak tried to woo Vance from the Bengals, but they refused to release him from his contract.
Californian Brian Pariani got his NFL coaching start as a Scout and then Shanahan’s offensive assistant in SF. Gary Kubiak was the quarterback coach and a tight bond formed. Mike must have loved what he saw because he brought both with him to Denver. Since then, Brian has been on Gary’s staff on every team he’s coached with. He’s been described as a crazy guy who’s intense and a stickler to detail. A guy who has always wanted to coach. Who started by wanting to be his younger brothers’ coach. Antonio Gates was one of many success stories. As an aside, Brian has a 4-0 SB record.
Florida State University stand out and their ring of fame LB, Reggie Herring, got his first NFL coaching gig when he was hired by Wade Phillips in Dallas. Chances are his stint at TCU didn’t go unnoticed by the Cowboy. One could say that Reggie is a mercenary. Every college team he has coached on, their defense shone because he makes defenses better. Period. Need your linebackers to step it up? Call 1-800-Reggie. A year he spent in Dallas, they lead the league in sacks.
No doubt DeMarcus Ware was thrilled when Wade, after landing in Denver, made his old coach, Reggie, among his first calls. This is their third team together. A coach who says his team “needs to punch Mickey Mouse in the mouth” is probably a coach, a certain howling defensive player, can appreciate. It’s also no coincidence that the lone FSU player under Elway, is a linebacker, Dekoda Watson.
At Sacramento State, where he played on the offensive line, Clancy Barone worked as a bouncer. The perfect side job for a future in coaching. A coaching job that almost didn’t happen when he interviewed for his first gig as the wrong position coach. His perseverance in asking for a second chance proved successful and he never looked back. Coaching such names as Crumpler and Antonio Gates, led to him landing back in Denver where he worked with Tony Sheffler and the offensive line. While Julius Thomas left fans with a bad taste, his record breaking season was under Clancy.
As a remembrance and thanks to his home town, Clancy had a duplicate Lombardi trophy made and donated it. He has done the same for various organizations that he has given motivational speeches to.
He isn’t the only well known name in the Barone household. His wife, Rosie, is a fitness competitor and model, who has her own trophies to go along with his.
Offensive and defensive assistant, linebacker coach, and special teams are among the titles on Chris’s resume. So is quality control–something head coaches live or die on. That guy who watches game film and presents it to the coaches? Who gives the scout team the info they need to prepare the starters? Who analyzes and compiles statistics?
Chris has been that guy. There is no better job to prepare a future head coach or coordinator than being the quality control coach. Or learn all the ins and outs of schemes and tendencies of your opponents, learn to draw up plays. Ask Jon Gruden. He was the first designated quality control coach. In today’s NFL, very few make it to the top without quality control on their list of accomplishments. Beake’s first job in the NFL? Quality control for Steve Mariuchi.
When Broncos offensive assistant, Klint Kubiak, played at CSU, Marc Lubick was an assistant coach there. While both coaches played college safety during their careers, Marc got his start at quarterback in High School and Klint at wide receiver and safety. Both learned football at the feet of their fathers as their assistants and both became Elway fans. Both have forged success on teams away from their famous fathers. And like them, coaching is their passion.
Where their similar stories diverge is on the health front. Marc is a cancer survivor. He joins a list of Broncos coaches, including our Head Coach, who have encountered dire medical issues and overcame them. It must be tough to be a player wanting to complain about being hot when you look into the eyes of someone who knows what real suffering is. That perseverance and a can do attitude will bring success. Having coaches with that burning desire and strength is what Super Bowl teams are made of.
When Klint was a quality control coach for the wide receivers (now you know what one does) in Minneapolis, the linebacker coach was Fred “Pug” Pagac and the defensive backs was Joe Woods. Yes, Denver has two linebacker coaches. Inside and outside. Pug learned under the great Woody Hayes. You want a guy who loves the blitz, who is fiery, but with a heart of gold? Pug is the man. He’s a goofy, funny guy who relates to his players. A common trait he shares with Wade.
From Joe Woods, you get a sense he’s Fred’s opposite. He’s new school. Fell into coaching because he was asked, not as something he thought about. More quiet and introverted, a guy who is used to working with rookies. They have little in common, come from different backgrounds and coaching mentors and yet, this dynamic duo, works. During some of Joe and Pug’s years with the Vike’s, the team almost had an old, Purple People Eaters of the 70’s, feel.
Thinking of those purple fearsome foursome, brings to mind Bill Kollar. Who can see his name without picturing him wrestling a bear? Like a bear, Bill is brash, abrasive, loud and in your face. He’s a straight shooter and a fast talker. He tells a player what he thinks, even if it’s not welcome. And he gets results. JJ Watt results. His specialty? Teaching players how to bat passes down. One can’t help but wonder if he learned that technique when he was trying to knock a 500 hundred pound bear off his chest.
While he is a grandfather like a few of the coaches (his grandkids live in Denver), it’s doubtful the rookies see him as that way. Mr Soft and Cuddly he is not, but ask Wolfe and Malik Jackson, (who really should give him a cut of his monster salary and a Jacksonville Beach rental two weeks a year), how warm fuzzies work.
He is one of the very few coaches who didn’t begin his coaching odyssey under Dan, Wade, Mike or Gary, but it ended up that way. He’s an Ohio guy drafted by the Bengals who started his coaching career in Atlanta, but one that began before Reeves, Phillips, Joe DeCamillis, Clancy Barone and Lubick, came aboard.
When Wade left that Falcons team for Dallas, he pilfered Joe, a Coloradan who was a wrestler at Wyoming. That’s where he met and married Reeve’s daughter, Dana. Joe started his career in Denver, followed Dan to Atlanta where he made his own name for himself. If Sly and the Family Stone’s song, “It’s a Family Affair”, is running through your head, you’re not alone.
If you look up toughness, Joe’s picture will be there. During a wrestling match, he once dislocated his shoulder and popped it back in, never quitting. This is small peanuts when compared to having a collapsed beam fall on him breaking his neck and back. Missing only one game in Dallas, he finished the season wearing a brace and only able to sleep sitting up. The man who helped carry him on a stretcher? Wade Phillips.
Joe often used Tom Landry’s old bullhorn to fire up his players. He’s considered an elite Special Teams guru, who creates squads which have speed and brutality. Leaving no questions as to why Kubiak brought along his former coaching colleague when he returned home to Denver. Fast and Brutal IS the Denver Broncos.
Anquon Bolden, Terrell Owens, are a couple of the names that Texan native, Tyke Tolbert coached. He got his will to win, his competitiveness from his father, Leon Tolbert, who played at Booker T. Washington HS, a Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) . Look them up and the famous names from that program. Impressive.
While some coaches are fiery and tend to launch epic rants during games, Tyke has a different mindset.
Tyke entered the NFL through the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship. So did Tony Coaxum, Eric Studesville and Samson Brown. Based on the number of minority coaches in relation to the number of minority players, Walsh was a visionary seeing a need for this. Tony came over with Gary from the Ravens.
Hopefully, most of you know that Wisconsin native, Studes was The interim HC when McD (that guy who will remain nameless) was fired. Only coaching for one year with the Broncos, Mr. B and President Joe Ellis had such faith in him, they put him in charge. He was who started Tebow and coached him for that win in 2010.
Ross Tucker credits our running backs learning pass protection on Studes. If you see mistakes made from the players, Ross has said, believe me, he’s taught against it, the player, not the coach is the problem. High praise from a former QB who knows how important a running back who can rush, catch and protect, is.
West Point graduate, and former Black Knights coach, Coaxum keeps close to his heart in every game the names of his classmates who are no longer with us. This is a man Gary had to bring to Denver. A man our players can look up to. As an aside, while at Baltimore he was targeted by Titans TE. One wonders, is this the new targeting? Go after defenseless coaches?
When Jack Del Rio was with the Saints, he started hearing stories about a strength and conditioning guru at a gym in Arizona. At Athletes Performance, Luke Richesson, used ground breaking techniques that focused on teaching #Horsepower and grit and how to use the body correctly after an injury.
Many chronic injuries occur because athletes fail to properly recover nor relearn to use the body as it functioned before. To realign and strengthen the injured area. In a sport where injuries are the norm, not the exception, this training philosophy is crucial in the NFL.
Luke got his love for weight lifting from his father and older brother who both played at William Jewell. While his hobby is tinkering with American muscle cars, his priority is family. He especially loves working with young players and rookies, teaching them good strengthening and recovery techniques that will help them achieve at the next level.
That older brother who helped foster Luke’s passion? He’s none other than renowned artist, Gabe Richesson, who not only created the t-shirts for the team the last two years, but also painted the new mural in the weight room. Talent running in families seems to be a common theme in Denver.
When JDR was hired by Jacksonville, he brought Luke and fellow AP trainer, Anthony Lomando, plus added Mike Eubanks. During this time, running back Maurice Jones-Drew only missed two starts, in no small part due to this group. In Denver he added, Dennis Love, where all four strength and conditioning coaches remain. Remember fast and brutal? These four are how you stay that way.
When your franchise is built by and as a family, is run by men who eat, sleep and dream about football, you have a chance at greatness. When those men instill in their players that they will NOT lose, that they WILL win world championships and they believe in them, the future is as limitless as the sunset over a city that’s a Mile High.