DENVER — It's Jan. 1, 2017, and the Denver Broncos have just defeated their hated rival, the Oakland Raiders, but inside the locker room the mood is somber at best.
The team has just found out that their beloved head coach Gary Kubiak is retiring due to health concerns.
As they attempt to comprehend the news, the same sentiment keeps on coming up.
"You sit back, and you remember all of the times he took care of us," says safety Will Parks. "You remember the times he gave us days off, gave us times where we didn't go full pads, gave us times where we could come in an extra hour late. He had been there before. He had been in our shoes; he knows how much pressure is on you as a player. He made sure he took care of us, and we worked hard for him. At the end of the day, man, that's what you call a real man, that's what you call a real man."
"He’s definitely a coach that takes care of his players," adds cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "He takes care of everyone, really."
“Kubes is the Godfather of taking care of bodies," chimes in fellow corner Aqib Talib. "He had to put two more years on my career the way he takes care of the vets, takes care of the older guys. I pray that the next coach is like that. We’ll definitely miss that if he’s not.”
After 11 days of uncertainty, the organization introduced Vance Joseph as the 16th head coach in the history of the franchise. Nine months later and five weeks into the season, Talib and his teammates are entirely relieved.
"Oh, our prayers were definitely answered," the 10-year vet said on Friday afternoon. "They were definitely answered, man. The schedule that VJ has us on—I feel just as fresh as that 2015 year if not fresher than that year. It's working out for me, man. You know, I talk to a lot of guys on the team and man, everybody loves the schedule."
Talib—along with Jamaal Charles and Domata Peko—has been getting a "vet rest day" every Wednesday. It's all part of a plan that Joseph has for the entire team, and that plan has Denver as healthy as you could ever hope for heading into Week 6.
“It’s important," the rookie head coach explained. "We’re playing football; it’s a physical game, so you’re going to have some injuries. What they (the Giants) went through on Sunday, you can’t prevent that. I think having a plan for the entire year helps to keep players healthy. It’s Jamaal Charles not working on Wednesday, Talib not working on Wednesday and Domata not working on Wednesday. It’s having recovery day on Friday. Long-term, you have to plan early for that. You can’t at Week 10 say, ‘Okay, let’s back Talib off.’ Because he won’t make it and Jamaal Charles won’t make it. I think having a plan and sticking with it through the good times and through adversity is important when you have a plan to keep guys healthy.”
Where did he learn all that? Well, the new head man did spend three years on the staff of the so-called "Godfather" of this stuff.
“Kubiak was great at that, with managing players, taking the pads off at certain times and having walk-through Fridays," Joseph explained of his influences. "You take certain things from each guy you were with.... [Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach] Marvin [Lewis] in my second year became really good at it—we had our best year that year with Marvin. The first year we were really beat up. The second year he pulled the pads off on Friday and had a recovery Friday. We won 11 games in the row and a healthy football team. It’s a combination of guys that I’ve been with.”
When you hear the phrase used over and over again to describe Vance Joseph, "leader of men," you think of big motivational speeches or some "rah rah" mentality, but it's things like this that truly build a connection with a team.