ENGLEWOOD — Late Sunday afternoon, Gary Kubiak will be patrolling the sidelines for the Denver Broncos, trying to lead them to the third Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Kubiak is nearly as synonymous with the franchise as John Elway. He is in his 21st season with the organization and his first as the head coach. He has been in coaching since he retired after nine years of being Elway's backup, with all but the first two years being in the NFL.
That could have been a different narrative if Kubiak had not reversed one decision 17 years ago. In 1999, Kubiak was Denver's offensive coordinator as the Broncos were marching to their second straight Super Bowl title. In the midst of that run he interviewed for the head coaching job at Colorado to replace Rick Neuheisel.
He agreed to take the job, but before the scheduled press conference was held announcing his hiring, things changed. Kubiak instead addressed the media at Dove Valley announcing he would remain with the Broncos.
As his team prepared to face Carolina in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, Kubiak was asked if he thinks about how different his career could have been had he not changed his mind 17 years ago.
Kubiak, ever the pragmatist, didn't want to reflect on what-ifs.
"That was a long time ago," he said. "I don't know, I think things work out the way they're supposed to work out. I've been very fortunate to be in this business a long time. A majority of that time's been right here, so I've been very lucky."
Kubiak leaving the Buffs at the altar didn't hurt initially. Gary Barnett accepted the job and had a mostly successful tenure, including three trips to the Big 12 championship game and a win there in 2001. But the program has gone through some lean years since and having a high-profile coach might have made a difference.
"It would have been crazy," said Broncos offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus, who played for CU from 2003-07. "Who knows what the program would be today. I had some great coaches when I was up there. It would have been pretty cool to have a coach like Gary."
Kubiak stayed on as the Broncos offensive coordinator through the 2005 season when Denver reached the AFC championship game. A home win in that game against No. 6 seed Pittsburgh would have put the Broncos in the Super Bowl against Seattle, a much-less formidable team than the one they faced two years ago.
It would have been a nice send-off for Kubiak, who became Houston's head coach the next year. He went 61-64 in seven-plus seasons before being fired with three games left in 2013. He was Baltimore's offensive coordinator last year and was hired last January by Elway.
There's no telling where the CU program would be had Kubiak not changed his mind, but Broncos tight end Nick Kasa, a defensive lineman and tight end for the Buffs from 2008-12, feels things are looking up.
"I think coach Mac up in Boulder is going the right way right now, which is good to see," he said. "I'm hoping they have some good seasons coming up; I think they will. They were right on the cusp this year with some close games."