Kubiak tells Broncos he’s leaving for health reasons

FILE - In a Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 file photo, Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak talks during a news conference after their loss against the New England Patriots in an NFL football game, in Denver. Denver's five-year playoff run that featured two Super Bowl trips came crashing to a halt with a late-season slide that revealed both flaws in the foundation and fissures in the locker room.  (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)

DENVER (AP) Broncos coach Gary Kubiak informed his players after their victory over Oakland on Sunday that he’s stepping away from the game and the team he loves. He said the grind of coaching was taking too big of a toll on his health.

”In all honesty, I’ve struggled this year ,” said Kubiak, who has fought fatigue ever since suffering a complex migraine back in October.

Kubiak, 55, leaves with two years left on his contract and a 24-11 record in Denver. Including his eight seasons with Houston, his career head coaching record is 87-77.

”I’m glad we sent him off with a win,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said.

The Broncos’ 24-6 win over the Raiders was a bittersweet capstone to a disappointing season that began with expectations of repeating as Super Bowl champs and a 4-0 record, and ended without a trip to the playoffs and a 9-7 mark.

Kubiak says goodbye just 11 months after winning Super Bowl 50.

”We love Kube, we love how he treated us,” said Aqib Talib. ”We pray he gets healthy.”

The star cornerback said he still marvels at how fast the Broncos played in their 24-10 win over Cam Newton and Carolina in the Super Bowl.

”That’s kudos to Kube. He kept us super fresh and it showed in February,” Talib said.

It’s an irony not lost on his players that Kubiak was so adroit at keeping players’ bodies fresh for game day but couldn’t stay healthy himself.

”He understood our bodies, I think, better than any coach I’ve ever had,” said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. ”A lot of coaches want to grind you out, wear you down, and then you don’t have any juice during the season. That’s one thing I loved the most.”

”Kube is the godfather of taking care of bodies, man,” Talib said. ”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.”

Now, Kubiak can focus on preserving his own health, they said.

”His health is the most important thing to us,” linebacker Von Miller said.

”You can’t kill yourself over this game,” Harris said.

After an Oct. 9 loss, Kubiak was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a complex migraine , then forced to sit out Denver’s next game. It was his second major health scare. In 2013, while with the Texans, he collapsed on the field and was diagnosed with a mini-stroke.

He was fired at the end of that season and had a terrific comeback in 2014 as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, where he had planned to stay until Broncos GM John Elway called him following John Fox’s ouster.

Kubiak stepped back into the pressure cooker of head coaching on Jan. 19, 2015, when he was hired as Denver’s 15th head coach. He had spent 13 seasons there backing up Elway at quarterback and drawing up plays as his offensive coordinator.

He said at the time that his health scare in 2013 taught him to rely more on those around him. He also said he wasn’t worried about the pressure of the Denver job, noting he thrived amid high expectations as a player from 1983-91, then serving on Mike Shanahan’s staff from 1995-2005 and coaching the Texans from 2006-13.

Last season, Kubiak deftly managed injuries at quarterback, edge rusher and left tackle to lead the Broncos to their third Lombardi Trophy even though both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler struggled to run the offense.

Kubiak’s offensive philosophies are rooted in Bill Walsh’s West Coast system featuring the zone-blocking schemes that the Broncos fine-tuned in the 1990s and 2000s. But in both of his seasons in Denver, the Broncos stumbled offensively, unable to run the ball or get much production from the tight ends.

With four new starters along the offensive line this season, the Broncos again sputtered behind poor blocking and a battered backfield. Under incessant pressure, Siemian suffered injuries to both shoulders and his left foot, forcing him to miss 2+ games. In those games, Paxton Lynch, the 26th overall pick out of Memphis, showed he was far from adapting to the pro game.

With Kubiak stepping down, possible replacements include Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Elway will address his third coaching search in six years on Monday.

Big changes were expected on his offensive staff even if Kubiak returned, because of a season-long, head-scratching inability to start faster. The Broncos scored an NFL-worst 40 first-quarter points and had just two sustained touchdown drives in the first quarter all season, including one Sunday.

Slow starts meant playing from behind too much, and that defanged their strengths: Miller wrecking game plans with Talib and Harris shutting down receivers.

The Broncos also missed run-stuffers Malik Jackson (free agent departure) and Vance Walker (season-ending knee injury in camp) and their run defense slipped from top-3 to 29th.

News broke overnight that Kubiak would be likely be coaching his last game, players arrived at the stadium with extra incentive to beat the Raiders even though the game was the first for Denver since 2000 without any playoff implications.

”We knew that we got to really turn it on,” Talib said. ”We can’t be in here sad and get the sad speech.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton