Tribune Star Correspondent
Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak knows a thing or two about being a successful quarterback in the National Football League.
Kubiak was a standout collegiate quarterback himself at Texas A&M before being selected by Denver in the eighth round of the 1983 NFL draft. He spent all of his playing career with the Broncos from 1983-1991, He spent his entire career as a backup to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, seeing action in 119 games, before moving into the coaching ranks.
He began his NFL coaching career with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, serving as the team's quarterbacks coach and working with another future Hall of Famer (Steve Young). Young was named as the league's Most Valuable Player and was the Super Bowl MVP that season.
Kubiak went back to Denver a year later and became the Broncos' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, positions that he would hold until 2005 when he became the head coach in Houston. During his second tour of duty in Denver, where he won two more Super Bowl titles, Elway was named as Super Bowl XXXIII MVP.
With that as a backdrop, the Texans coach was asked this past week for his impressions of Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Indianapolis and Houston will face off this afternoon at Reliant Stadium in an AFC South matchup that has plenty of playoff implications for both teams.
Both Luck and Kubiak grew up and played high school football in the Houston area. And Kubiak is an acquaintance of Luck's father, former Houston Oilers backup quarterback Oliver Luck.
The question posed to Kubiak was an obvious one: You've been around some great quarterbacks during your time in the NFL. What do you think of Luck and his future in the league?
“I tell you what, I thought he was as good of a player as I’ve ever seen come out going back to [former Colts quarterback] Peyton [Manning] when I studied Peyton. I said that a couple of times in the draft room [this past spring]," he said.
"Actually, I saw that young man [Luck] in high school. He grew up right here down the road [from the Texans' offices] and I watched him throw some seven-on-seven tournaments and stuff while my kids were growing up. And he’s been exceptional at every level he’s played. Now, he’s at the highest level and he’s doing it again. I think he’s going to do it a long, long time."
Perhaps the thing that caught Kubiak's attention the most while reviewing Luck's season thus far was the rookie's sense of the game.
"You can tell he’s a student of the game. [He] has a total grasp from that standpoint and he’s a tremendous competitor that seems the tougher the situation, the better he is as a player," the Texans coach pointed out.
Kubiak wasn't done with his enthusiasm for the Colts' first-year quarterback.
“I think [Luck is] exceptional. I think I’ve said this a couple times. He’s sure as heck hasn’t disappointed. He’s been excellent this year. I told the team [this week] he’s playing like an eight-, nine-year football player when you watch him play. He’s handling a ton of offense. He makes plays off-schedule and the bigger the situation, the bigger he makes. I’m extremely impressed with him. I know our football team is, too, after watching him," he said.
"Good, young, fast, football team that’s coming in here. [The Colts have] built this thing really, really quick. [Interim coach] Bruce [Arians] has done an amazing job with them."
When pressed further, Kubiak offered up who he thinks Luck most closely resembles as an NFL quarterback.
"The thing about this guy, he reminds me a lot of [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger from a standpoint even when you get there [to rush the quarterback], he’s hard to tackle. He’s a big guy. He’s very athletic, makes a lot of plays with his feet. It’s got to be a big conscious effort for us to keep him contained and then when we do have our opportunities you got to really work to bring him down," the Texans coach said.
"You can make just an incredible highlight reel of him, people just hanging on to him and him still making plays. It’ll be a big point of emphasis, but this guy is not a rookie. He’s been playing, like I said, an eight, nine-year vet. He’s been exceptional.”
While some outside observers sometime attribute some of the success of the Manning brothers -- Peyton and Eli -- or Luck in the NFL to the fact their fathers were former players in the league, Kubiak won't go that far. How they were raised makes a big difference as well.
"I would say this, obviously, Oliver [Luck] and his wife have raised a tremendous young man, not only a football player, but a tremendous young man. He’s been successful at every level. I watched him at Stratford High School [in Houston], what he did. You watch him go to Stanford. You watch a kid come in this league and handle what he’s handled and go into some of the places he’s played and the way he’s played. It’s extremely impressive, but I don’t think it’s a surprise," he said.
"I think it’s something he’s been doing all along. I think that’s happening more often now. I think some of these guys you look at [Robert Griffin III]. You look at that. You look at [Miami rookie quarterback Ryan] Tannehill. You look at some of these guys and how quick they’re being successful in this league. It says a lot about their upbringing and the way they’re being coached in college, so very impressive.”
Kubiak is not the only members of the Texans coaching staff who has been impressed. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who was also an assistant and later head coach in Denver, has watched a lot of game tape of Luck in the past week.
"He’s brought a team that didn’t win [many] games last year, basically without a quarterback, brought in a quarterback, a young quarterback, and they’re right in the playoff hunt. We played against [Peyton] Manning when I was at Buffalo his first year and I think they only won two games," Phillips said.
"This guy has made the team win a lot of games. Six times he’s brought them from behind at the end of the game. I can’t say enough about how good of a quarterback he is and how good of a future he has. That’s what is impressive is a guy who can come in the league as a rookie and say, ‘I’m going to drop back and throw it and beat you guys,’ and that’s what he’s done.”