Kubiak aims Texans towards playoffs

August 1, 2009 12:55:17 PM PDT
Gary Kubiak was known as an offensive genius years before becoming a head coach. [SPORTS BLOG: Read the latest from the Eyewitness Sports team]

He's held true to that reputation in Houston, turning the Texans' once-bumbling offense into one of the league's most potent groups in his first three years.

Now he needs to turn around the defense to push his team past the mediocrity of the last two seasons and into the playoff hunt, a place the Texans have never been.

As hard as Kubiak can be on the players, he's probably more difficult on himself.

"I think you're continuing to learn every day," he said. "So hopefully I continue to get better. ... We've made some progress and I need to continue to make more progress just like our football team."

Houston's offense ranked 30th in 2005, managing just more than 253 yards a game the season before Kubiak arrived after leaving his longtime post as Denver's offensive coordinator.

His first year brought little improvement with the Texans offense remaining in the league's bottom five. So Kubiak and the Texans made the bold move of releasing quarterback David Carr, the top overall pick in 2002 and the face of the franchise, to rebuild with someone new.

As John Elway's longtime backup with the Broncos, Kubiak knew what he wanted from a quarterback and the Texans quickly snatched up highly regarded Matt Schaub, then Michael Vick's backup in Atlanta.

The move paid off immediately with the Texans going .500 for the first time and the offense averaging more than 333 yards a game, 14th in the NFL.

Schaub appreciates Kubiak's approach to coaching.

"He played in the league for a number of years, so he knows what it's like to be in our position," Schaub said. "He relates well to us, and he's willing to work with us. So ... he takes cares of us, and he has a good feel for the team."

The team was slowed somewhat in Schaub's first season by a lack of consistency at running back, which the Texans addressed in the 2008 draft by adding Steve Slaton.

The third-rounder gave the offense a dimension it had been missing for years and allowed the Texans to rack up more than 382 yards a game and overcome an 0-4 start to finish 8-8. Andre Johnson led the way with an NFL-best and career-high 1,575 yards receiving.

Long a solid receiver, Johnson has flourished under Kubiak's tutelage.

"I think he was the right guy for this organization and I think he's going to be here for a long time," Johnson said. "Things have gotten better every year since he's been here. He's brought a totally different attitude to this team, to this organization and I think it's only going to get better as long as he's here."

Another move Kubiak made was hiring Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator before last season. The son of former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was 5-years-old when he first met Kubiak. He's seen firsthand Kubiak's transition from player to coordinator and finally to coach of the Texans.

"Kube is still himself," Kyle Shanahan said. "He hasn't changed. He's not much of a rah-rah guy, he keeps it really real. He played in this league for a long time and he's coached for a while, so when he talks to the players he sounds like a player and I think they appreciate that."

Kukiak called the plays for most of the season before he let Shanahan take over. This season, he'll step aside and let his offensive coordinator handle it all year.

"The biggest change for me is going to be having the confidence in Kyle to call games from the start," Kubiak said. "So that is different. It ended up that way last season. I felt very good about it. We'll continue to work together throughout this preseason, but that is a change for me."

It's also new territory for Shanahan.

"I hope that he thinks I do a good enough job at it that I can keep doing it," he said. "That's something I feel I owe to him to do so he can spend more time being the head coach and taking care of a lot of other stuff."

After spending his entire coaching career focused solely on offense, Kubiak has had to readjust his thinking to being in charge of the whole team.

"It's just a change because you are so focused in your expertise so to speak -- what you've been a part of in football for so long," he said. "Now you have to broaden your scope and be there for (everyone) and all phases of the game.

"The people I have on the offensive side of the ball have helped me with that, because I am so confident with the people that are coaching for me on that side."

The Texans fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith this offseason and replaced him with Frank Bush. Kubiak hopes he'll be the key to improving a defense that is filled with high draft picks, but remains one of the league's worst.

"I think our defense has got to find an identity," Kubiak said. "We have played a lot of football players on defense in the past few years compared to what we've done offensively. I think us locking in on the 11 that are going to make us as good as we can be is the most important thing."

Kubiak is constantly evaluating himself and sets personal goals each season. He was coy when asked for specific examples, but did share one and it's the only one that matters to this team.

"My goal for this football team is to get it to the playoffs," he said. "That's my goal."

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