Mike Zimmer calls Gary Kubiak 'the best thing that's ever happened to me since I've been here'

It’s a bittersweet week for Gary Kubiak, assistant head coach and offensive advisor for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are 7-3, have won five of their past six and started preparations Wednesday to face the Denver Broncos on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. That’s the franchise where Kubiak lost three Super Bowls as a player, won two as an assistant coach and in 2015, won Super Bowl 50 as the head coach.

The 2016 season was his last in Denver, citing health reasons.

He joined Mike Zimmer and the Vikings in the offseason, looking to help restore a run game that was almost non-existent and an offense that was inconsistent. The Vikings finished the 2018 season 8-7-1, missing the NFC Playoffs for the third time in five seasons under Zimmer.

When Zimmer was asked about Kubiak’s influence on Wednesday, his answer was candid and honest.

“Gary has been tremendous, it’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I’ve been here,” Zimmer said.

Kubiak was brought in with a couple things in mind: Get back to running the football, be a mentor to offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and the other coaches and help Kirk Cousins do what he does best.

Through 10 games, the numbers don’t lie. The Vikings are the No. 3-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 153 yards per game. They’re No. 8 in total offense at more than 343 yards per game, and Cousins is currently tied for third in the NFL with 18 touchdowns. His 2,437 passing yards through 10 games are in the top 15 in the league.

Against one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL on Sunday Night Football, the Vikings ran for 153 yards and averaged more than four yards per carry against the Cowboys. Last season, the Vikings were one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL, and it limited what they could do to get the ball down field.

Kubiak’s relationship with Stefanski appears to be evolving throughout the season, and it’s paying dividends on the field.

“He’s great, he’s open to ideas that him and Kevin talk about. He’s open to anything that looks like it makes sense, that’s just the type of guy he is,” Zimmer said of Kubiak. “Hard worker, team guy, the other thing he told me that he really missed was being part of a team, so I think he likes being here and doing those things.”

It also helps when you’ve got the best running back in the NFL to lead your rushing attack. Through 10 games Dalvin Cook is nine yards shy of 1,000 for the season. He’s also becoming an integral part of the passing game, coming off a season-high seven catches for 96 yards.

Through 10 games, Cook has 1,415 total yards and is the Vikings’ second-leading receiver behind Stefon Diggs.

“I think when you put those great minds together, I’ve been saying him, coach Kevin (Stefanski), coach Rico (Dennison), our offensive staff, they’re smart,” Cook said. “They put a good game plan together each week for us to go execute, and I think we do a good job of buying into what they got going on, how they want it done so I think that’s where our success is coming from.”

It appears the entire offensive coaching staff is on the same page, from Kubiak to Stefanski, Dennison, quarterbacks coach and Gary’s son Klint Kubiak, running backs coach Ken Polamalu and other staff members.

If the Vikings offense is going to work consistently, it’s built around running the football in Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, and putting players like Cook in situations to gain yards and score touchdowns. It’s also reliant on Cousins not forcing throws and taking what defenses give him. Sometimes, that means a screen pass to Cook and if he breaks tackles to gain 20+ yards, they’ll take it.

And it’s not just on Cousins and Cook to make the offense work. Adam Thielen and Diggs have proven to be one of the most potent receiver duos in the NFL, Kyle Rudolph has emerged again as a weapon at tight end, Alexander Mattison has improved steadily in his rookie season as a rusher, and Irv Smith Jr. and Bisi Johnson have becoming passing targets. Even Laquon Treadwell has gotten involved since coming back to the Vikings, with three catches in the loss at Kansas City.

When Cousins was asked about Kubiak’s influence on Wednesday, he said the same thing as Cook: It’s a collective effort among the entire coaching staff.

“I think that it’s hard to put it on any one person. I think that Rick Dennison as our offensive line coach has done a phenomenal job with our run game and with in-game adjustments. I think Kevin has done a very good job of putting our players, including myself, in a position to be successful,” Cousins said. “I can go down the line, I think Klint at the quarterback position has coached me in a very detailed way, not letting me get away with anything. Obviously Gary coming in has been a voice in just about everything I mentioned as well. They’ve worked really well together as a staff, but the job is not over yet. We’ve got a big stretch up ahead.”

That stretch includes facing Kubiak’s former team Sunday before their bye, traveling to face the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football and three out of four to close out the regular season at home against divisional opponents.