ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos have some darn good coaches.
Led by head man Gary Kubiak, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, their current 23 person staff has a combined 340-years of NFL coaching experience.
In all that time, you’re bound to coach some excellent players. Yet, this Broncos staff has done far more than that.
Phillips alone has coached 30 Pro Bowl players. Kubiak and Phillips have coached a combined nine Pro Football Hall-of-Fame inductees.
That number could rise next summer.
On Wednesday, the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame announced the list of 94 modern-era nominees who could be inducted in August of next year.
Included on that list are nine former Broncos’ players, six of whom were directly coached by either Kubiak during his stretch as the team’s offensive coordinator between 1995-2002 or Phillips during his run as the defensive coordinator and later head coach from 1989-1994.
The full list of nominees featured 10 individuals with Broncos ties: running back Terrell Davis, linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, safeties John Lynch, Steve Atwater, Brian Dawkins, and Dennis Smith, center Tom Nalen, cornerback Ty Law, receiver Rod Smith, and former head coach Dan Reeves.
Kubiak coached Davis, Nalen, and Rod Smith while Phillips directly coached Mecklenburg, Atwater, and Dennis Smith.
The Broncos’ head coach already has a sterling record of working with Hall of Fame talent. Quarterback John Elway, tight end Shannon Sharpe, and offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman were all key contributors to the Kubiak coached Super Bowl championship offenses who have been inducted in the last twelve years.
“It means you’re getting old,” Kubiak joked. “I’ve been fortunate to be around some great ones. I’ve been to that day a couple of times with John, with Zim, and Shannon. I can’t remember, but I’ve been there a couple of times for those festivities. I sure hope to go again a couple more times.”
Kubiak might just get that chance.
Davis and Atwater were both finalists last year. Their names were openly debated in the annual meeting held with the 48 voting members of the Hall-of-Fame committee.
Lynch, who wasn’t coached by either Kubiak or Phillips, but was roaming the Broncos secondary towards the end of Kubiak’s time running Denver’s offense, has gotten into the room for three consecutive years.
Getting into the room two times, as Davis and Lynch have, typically means the chances are good that player will eventually be inducted. However, this year there are a plethora of first-time candidates, including Chargers’ running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Dolphins’ defensive end Jason Taylor, who could make getting to the list of 15 finalists difficult for the Broncos’ candidates.
Whether or not any more Broncos get in next year, the long list of former Kubiak and Phillips’ players on the list of 94 nominees is a testament of the ability of these Broncos coaches.
Or is it?
“I had Curley Culp and Elvin Bethea, they both went in the Hall-of-Fame when I first started. Then, Reggie White and Bruce Smith went in the Hall-of-Fame, so I’m pretty sure I coached them into the Hall-of-Fame,” Phillips joked, mercilessly mocking the notion that players can be coached into the hall. “Those guys are great. Those guys are the best players in their era and hopefully coaching has something to do with it. You feel like you wouldn’t be in coaching if you couldn’t help. When they have that kind of talent to make the Hall-of-Fame they probably had a lot of different coaches and still made it. It’s the talent first.”
Ultimately, the NFL is a player’s league built around exceptional athletes. However, the long list of Hall-of-Famers influenced by either Kubiak or Phillips highlights what can happen when talented young men intersect with talented coaches.
Natural ability may make a player great. Exceptional coaching can make a player legendary.