CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Even after a second frightening health scare, even after being unable to adjust his routine, Gary Kubiak held strong. He tried desperately to convince himself he could keep coaching, even though his body screamed otherwise. He scheduled a Christmas Eve meeting with general manager John Elway in Kansas City to discuss his future.
"I tried to get out of it or delay it," Kubiak said with a smile Monday.
It was time. In his heart he knew. So Kubiak sat down in his hotel room with his boss, setting the stage for his exit when he told Elway, "I need to talk to you as a friend."
Kubiak laid out his reasons for leaving. His mind was made up.
"He was dead set on starting a new chapter in his life," Elway said.
Elway joked that he attempted to talk Kubiak out of it as late as Monday morning. Kubiak wasn't having it. After all, Elway never let Kubiak try to convince him to keep playing after the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
"I just couldn't do it anymore," Kubiak said, his voice cracking through a raw, heartfelt press conference at team headquarters. "I am doing great. I am OK. Coaching is a very demanding business. A tough business. We all have a routine. If I am going to do it, I am going to do it certain way. If I can't do it my way, then have somebody else do it."
That is ultimately what led Kubiak to reluctantly walk away from his dream job. He couldn't do less. He is wired to work 18 hours a day. He is relentless, enjoying the grind of the week as much if not more than Sundays. Unable to reinvent himself, Kubiak excused himself.
"It's time for me to step away," Kubiak said.
Monday at Dove Valley illustrated Kubiak's far-reaching impact. Every coach attended the press conference. Players cleaned out their lockers, and talked repeatedly about how Kubiak served as a "father figure, a mentor, a leader."
"He took care of us. He treated us like men," safety Darian Stewart said. "I have never had a coach so loyal."
Kubiak admitted he wasn't sure what he would do next. His affection for the game that has consumed him has not changed. But he will be seeking other outlets as well.
"I have to find a new passion," Kubiak said. "I just don't know what it is yet."
Kubiak is universally respected because of his professionalism. He cares for his players, coaches, and respects those who cover the game. He thanked reporters for their hard work. That is Kubiak. He creates bonds because of character and integrity.
"I am going to miss him," quarterback Trevor Siemian said.
Kubiak, 55, restored the Broncos to glory with a Super Bowl 50 victory. It was considered to be the first of many achievements in a long run as the boss. But this season became a struggle. He suffered a complex migraine on the sidelines against the Atlanta Falcons, leaving the stadium by ambulance. He was told to scale back, delegate, eat better, sleep more. Such advice runs against the grain of NFL coaches, particularly Kubiak who learned to log numbing hours while working under the likes of Bill Walsh and Mike Shanahan.
Kubiak's leadership style -- stern, fostering accountability with teammates playing for each other as brothers -- fit perfectly for a team looking to take the next step. The Broncos went 15-4 in Kubiak's first season, winning their first title since Elway retired.
"I can tell you this. I really enjoyed working these two years with Gary. I have been friends with Gary for a long, long time," Elway said. "He did a great job. He's going to be missed. He will always be close. I have so much respect for him. He walked into a tough situation. We had won four straight division titles and had been to a Super Bowl. Expectations were high. And he came in here and won it for us. He will always be part of the family."
Kubiak signed a four-year contract with the Broncos prior to the 2015 season. He had no plans to return to the role of head coach after his run in Houston. He enjoyed working as Baltimore's offensive coordinator.
"Then John had to call me," Kubiak said with a laugh.
They knew each other for three decades. It was the only head coaching job Kubiak would consider. Kubiak showed elasticity, leaning on a stout defense as the Broncos won a fifth straight AFC West title in 2015. Beyond the Super Bowl ring, his legacy will be how he juggled benching Peyton Manning while preventing a fissure in the locker room.
"The way Gary led the team and managed a challenging situation during our Super Bowl run was one of the best coaching jobs I’ve ever seen," Elway said. "Without a doubt, he’s left the Broncos in a better place than when he stepped off that plane from Houston two years ago."
Kubiak walked into the presser carrying the book he received in his first coaching job in 1992. He told friends he would leave the profession if the book ever fell apart.
"It tore this morning," Kubiak said. "Maybe it was a sign."
Kubiak stood before the press casually dressed, a symbol of his rolled-up sleeves demeanor.
"I came in here in blue jeans, and I am leaving in blue jeans," Kubiak said.
The former NFL quarterback fought back tears multiple times. He grew silent for several moments as he thanked his three sons, two of whom worked with him in Denver, and his wife Rhonda. It was a sad day. But as Kubiak waved as headed out of the Broncos meeting room, it was also necessary.
Kubiak had spent his football life taking care of players. It is time for him to take care of himself.
"(Rhonda) You kept me in one piece through all these years," Kubiak said. "I am coming home."