Gary Kubiak failed because he represents the Vince Lombardi school of football strategy rather than the Bill Belichik/Peyton Manning school.
Lombardi believed in execution, not strategy: he believed that good players, properly trained and disciplined to execute every play correctly, can beat any defense; he felt he could run Power Sweep Left, Power Sweep Right, and the occasional post-pattern (or down-&-out or crossing pattern) pass all day, and he did not need an All-Pro at every position to do it. So long as every player merely carried out his assignment correctly, it didn’t matter what the defense did; Lombardi felt he would win. Belichik and Manning believe in strategy as much as they do in execution. They believe in doing something other than what the defense expects you to do, which requires exhaustive study of the defense – not just before the game and during the game but right up until the moment before the snap on each play.
Kubiak, even more than Lombardi, considers himself a student of the game and a master-designer of plays, but everything for him is in pre-game preparation. He allows his QB to make certain adjustments at the line of scrimmage, but only within a very narrow range, whereas Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have virtually unlimited authority to make their own call (or deviate from the coordinator’s recommended call) based upon their final look at the defensive alignment. It is hard to tell whether Kubiak’s refusal to give broader authority to his QB is a tacit acknowledgement that Matt Schaub lacks the analytical and decision-making skills of Brady and Manning, or merely an expression of Kubiak’s adherence to the Lombardi style – or a result of Kubiak’s control-freak mentality. In any event, the end result is that Kubiak is still playing 1970s football, while others are playing a better, more contemporary game.
Is it possible to play the Belichik game successfully without a Brady or Manning at QB? Maybe not, in which case the Texans might be doomed, unless they can either surround their QB with much-better talent or hire a new coach who can get his troops to execute every play with Lombardi-like precision. But regardless of whether Kubiak failed because of inadequate personnel or inadequate coaching techniques and strategy, he remains a stunning failure, one whose every move could be anticipated by the defenses and who could not win under those circumstances. On the other hand, teams like Seattle, San Francisco, and this year’s versions of Philadelphia and Carolina, seem to suggest that a little bit of deception – for example, the fairly-wide repertoire of plays that are possible under the currently-fashionable read-option offense – goes a long way, even if you don’t have a QB with the ability to read a defense’s intentions right up to the moment before the snap. And no one has yet suggested that any of the read-option coaches is quite in the Belichik class.
Either way, it had become clear that the Texans needed a new coach, and it is not necessarily clear that only another Bill Belichik will do.