Denver sports franchises are keeping it local

So, what do you think about the Broncos hiring Gary Kubiak?

I like it. I always liked Kubiak (the guy and the coordinator) and I think the hire sets up well for “Life After Manning,” whenever that might be. I also like the idea of Kubiak running the show a whole lot more than good ol’ Uncle Foxy, the bumbling bumpkin who told everyone yesterday that the kind of quarterbacks he liked were the ones who won (enjoy Jay Cutler, Coach). If nothing else, Kubiak exudes competence.

And I’m betting you like it, too. After all, this type of hire is what Denver likes. Denver likes Denver; it’s a trend that’s played out in recent years across nearly all of our major sports teams. And despite the fact that I think the Kubiak hire is a good one, I’m not so sure the trend in general is a good thing.

In the past five years, nearly every major sports entity in town has opted to bring back “one of our own” to cure our ills.

The Rockies? Aside from regularly employing ex-Rockies hitting coaches (see Don Baylor and Dante Bichette), Dick Monfort and Dan O’Dowd brought in former shortstop Walt Weiss in 2012 to manage the club. This came on the heels of then-current manager Jim Tracy telling the Rockies “thanks but no thanks” while still under contract.

When the Avalanche finally had enough of the Joe Sacco era, they too looked to a former winner and fan favorite. Patrick Roy, who had no coaching experience beyond the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was handed the reins – under the guidance, of course, of Joe Sakic, another franchise great.

In MLS, when Rapids coach Oscar Pareja departed for F.C. Dallas after a relatively successful 2013 campaign in Colorado, the local side was handed over to Pablo Mastroeni. Once again, coaching duties were given to a former top player, as Mastroeni, with a career in Colorado that spanned from 2002 to 2013, was arguably the face of the franchise.

At the University of Colorado, the decision to hire Jon Embree as the Buffs head football coach – over former player Eric Bieniemy and former coach Bill McCartney – was met with great enthusiasm. The experiment was short lived, as the combination of Embree and Bieniemy (the offensive coordinator) turned out to be awful. On the hardwood, CU’s selection of Greeley native Tad Boyle has been golden.

At Colorado State, Jim McElwain was an outstanding hire, but once he departed, plenty of Rams backers wanted to look toward familiar names like Matt Lubick. Instead, the nod was given to Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. While Bobo’s qualifications were somewhat similar to McElwain, the choice was met with lukewarm reception.

The only team that hasn’t subscribed to this practice – at least of late – is the Denver Nuggets, who, back in the day, were a pioneer of this philosophy. After all, it was the Nuggets who employed ex-big man Dan Issel as head coach – twice (’92-94, ’99-01). The organization also brought in former scoring legend Kiki Vandeweghe as general manager in 2001 (he actually succeeded Issel, who at one time held two roles). Brian Shaw, who played all over the NBA but never in Denver, currently coaches; one might argue he’s the least-popular coach in town at the moment.

It’s not just a “Denver thing,” as plenty of organizations hold ties to former players and coaches. The lines of communication, as well as a general knowledge of personality and work ethic, are already in place. It all makes sense.

The question, though, is whether or not this is always the best path? Denver has an extraordinarily high percentage of “homegrown” coaches and GM-types. Aside from the Broncos, a team that featured a coaching staff that wasn’t homegrown at all, our teams aren’t exactly winning at a high rate lately. To some extent, all of these “local” hires know how to win, or were a part of a winning tradition at one point. Kubiak is certainly a justifiable choice on this front, as he was a part – as a coach – of the only Super Bowl championship runs the Broncos have ever known. Rumor had it that Mike Shanahan – another tie to Denver’s glory days – was in the mix, as well.

But just because someone has an existing tie to an organization doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best candidate. Familiarity doesn’t always translate to wins or titles. The only thing we know for sure is that familiar is, well, familiar.

Then again, there’s no proof that these candidates were the wrong choices, either. Would the Rockies have been better off to hire someone like Matt Williams? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that Williams – managing at altitude and dealing with injuries galore – might have experienced the same lack of success as Weiss had he been a Rockie. Will Brian Shaw ultimately experience the success of George Karl or the failure of Paul Westhead (both of whom were “outsiders”) when they arrived?

It’s quite possible that bringing home a familiar name is the best marketing tool a front office can use. Fans already know the name, and that’s worth something. In Denver, we like our own, and local teams understand this.

Still, familiar isn’t always right. Gary Kubiak, who was once “practically” hired at CU, has been linked to all kinds of jobs “back home.” Here’s hoping he’s the right choice, and not just a familiar one.

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