Although Gary Kubiak and Ron Rivera have few postseason wins as head coaches, their careers have provided them plenty of Super Bowl experience to share with their players. Let's take a look.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Broncos’ skipper Gary Kubiak share many of the same qualities: they are former players, highly-experienced coaches, possess reserved demeanor's, and enter the Super Bowl with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Both men have been fired in their NFL coaching careers, and assumed control of their respective franchises amid little fanfare. One can assume they have the backbone and drive to prove former doubters wrong.
Super Bowl 50 is first matchup of head coaches who are ex-NFL players since Mike Ditka’s Bears thrashed Raymond Berry’s Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX 30 years ago—a game in which Rivera played. Either Kubiak or Rivera will be just the fourth former player to win the championship as a head coach (Ditka, Tom Flores, and Tony Dungy).
Path to Super Bowl 50
Each coach has earned their stripes, if you will, and head into San Francisco vindicated in some regards. Kubiak, who amassed a pedestrian 61-64 record (55-65-5 ATS) in his first and only head-coaching stint with the Texans (2006-2013), didn’t inspire many Broncos fans when General Manager John Elway hired him before the start of the season. Nevertheless, Elway’s former backup and long-time friend did a masterful job balancing Manning’s injury with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, and now has the team in position to win its first title in nearly 20 seasons—in only his first year to boot. Kubiak can be only the fourth first-year head coach to win the Super Bowl (Don McCafferty, George Seifert, and Jon Gruden).
Rivera, meanwhile, was also an uninspired hire for Panthers fans back in 2011. A defensive coordinator for the Bears and Chargers throughout much of the 2000s, the former linebacker was passed over nine times for a head-coaching role before landing in Charlotte. Conservative play calling, two losing seasons in a row, and other misfortunes had Rivera on the hot seat before a miraculous 12-4 record in 2013, coupled with the AP NFL Coach of the Year award, secured his position with the franchise. “Riverboat Ron” assumed a more aggressive turn along the way, and has led the Panthers to 21 wins in their last 23 games.
Super Bowl Experience
Despite nearly 12 years of combined head-coaching experience, Rivera and Kubiak have only amassed seven postseason victories combined. Both have plenty of Super Bowl experience, however. Rivera won the title as a player (1985), but fell to Peyton Manning and the Colts as defensive coordinator for the Bears in 2006. Kubiak failed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in three trips as a player with the Broncos, but picked up two titles as offensive coordinator for Mike Shanahan’s squads in 1997 and 1998.
Despite many shared similarities, they are masters at their craft in two separate areas: Kubiak is an offensive guru and Rivera a defensive one. Both adhere to the styles and schemes they have been most successful under in the NFL. Rivera operates a classic 4-3 set with superior pass rushers and athletic linebackers, much like the 1985 and 2006 Bears defenses he was a part of. Kubiak, meanwhile, carries on one of the league's only zone-blocking schemes with its unique running game and play-action attack reminiscent of Shanahan’s success with the Broncos in the late 90s.
For what it’s worth, the two have clashed against each other as coaches or coordinators just three times in their career: Chargers vs.Texans (2010), Panthers vs. Texans (2011), and Panthers vs Ravens (2014) in Kubiak’s one-year stint as OC under John Harbaugh. Although Rivera’s teams have the better record (2-1 SU and ATS), Kubiak’s offenses have amassed an average of 401 yards per game and found the end zone eight times total for 24.7 points per game.
These two coaches have reached this point in their careers by following very different paths. The Panthers are Ron Rivera's first head coaching job, while Gary Kubiak failed as Texans head coach before getting this opportunity in Denver.
Kubiak has been in three Super Bowl champion teams as a coach, but he never won the big game as a player, while Rivera was a member of the 1985 Bears and he has proven that he knows how to get his players ready and he can let them know what to expect in the Super Bowl, which is extremely helpful.
Rivera has coached Carolina since 2011, his first years were tough and he was almost fired but he knows this roster from top to bottom, while Kubiak is winning with the team that John Fox built.