DENVER — Alex Gibbs, one of the greatest assistant coaches in NFL history and the offensive line boss of the Broncos’ vaunted zone blocking scheme, died Monday morning following complications from a stroke.
Gibbs, 80, was the Broncos’ offensive line coach from 1995-2003. His era began with Broncos running back Terrell Davis recording four consecutive 1,100 yard rushing seasons – including 2,008 in his MVP season of 1998 – followed by rushing seasons of at least 1,100 yards for Olandis Gary (1999), Mike Anderson (2000) and Clinton Portis (2002-03). The Broncos won their first two Super Bowls in 1997-98 with the Broncos’ running system getting just as much credit as quarterback John Elway.
A tough love style of coach, Gibbs’ scheme had five offensive line moving as one and picking up defenders in an area, rather than the more traditional power blocking system that’s about blocking the guy across from you one on one.
As the linemen moved in unison one way, the running back was to read the running lane and make one cut to glory. No one did this better than Davis, who eventually made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the system – which remained with Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan long after Gibbs left – may have gained greater acclaim when backs like Gary, Anderson, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell had 1,000-yard seasons.
During his time with the Broncos, Gibbs instituted policy in which offensive linemen would get fined whenever they were quated by the media.
Gibbs returned to the Broncos as an offensive line consultant in 2013. One of his last projects was Ben Garland, the former Air Force defensive lineman who was making the transition to offensive line. Garland and Vinston Painter would stay after practice that year to get specialized instruction from Gibbs. Garland went on to have a nice career with Atlanta and San Francisco and was the 49ers starting center in Super Bowl 54.
The coaching legend went out speaking his piece. As the Broncos were getting destroyed by Seattle in Super Bowl 48, Gibbs was upstairs in the coaches box screaming out his headsets at offensive coordinator Adam Gase to run the ball. Gibbs was on to something. Peyton Manning threw 49 times and was sacked once while Knowshon Moreno was the Broncos’ leading rusher with 17 yards on five carries in a 43-8 loss.
According to Broncos’ public relations guru Patrick Smyth, who talked Monday with Gibbs’ wife Trina, coach Gibbs had been leading an active lifestyle of bicycling and hiking up Camelback Mountain in the Phoenix area until he suffered the stroke a few months ago. In recent months, several of the Broncos’ players who flourished under Gibbs’ system – including Hall of Fame left tackle Gary Zimmerman, Mark Schlereth, David Diaz Infante and longtime trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos – visited their ailing coach.
He died at 6:45 Monday morning with Trina holding his hand.
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