DENVER -- **Emotions crackled in the Broncos' locker room late Sunday afternoon, and they had nothing to do with their 24-6 win over Oakland -- and everything to do with Head Coach Gary Kubiak, his address to the team after the game, and the impact he has had on the team in two seasons as its coach.
"It was an emotional moment," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "We were expecting to have him longer than two years and he made the decision to call himself down ... we have to respect that."
Kubiak did not want to discuss his future in his postgame press conference. He wanted the day to belong to the team. As always, he put that team before himself.
"The first thing he said was that he didn't want to bring it up to the team [before the game] because it was about the team instead of him," Thomas said. "That's what you expect out of a head coach and that's why he brought it to us at the end of the game."
Kubiak's words left the Broncos in a state of reflection, seasoned with admiration for the leader who guided them to their sport's ultimate prize, last season's world championship.
"We love him, man," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "He was a leader of men. Every week, man, he never changed. That's one thing about Kub -- he stayed even-keeled the whole way, winning, losing last year, and the same thing this year."
"We love Kub. We love how he treated us," added cornerback Aqib Talib.
The love wasn't simply about Kubiak the coach. It was about Kubiak the man. Kubiak the teacher. Kubiak the leader.
"He coaches you hard, which you appreciate, and he was fair," quarterback Trevor Siemian said. "He was as fair as it gets. He gives everybody an opportunity and coaches you hard and gets the most out of his players."
As a veteran of nine seasons as a player, Kubiak understood the rigors of playing. Throughout the last two years, he took steps to ensure his players were fresh, throttling back practice and providing rest when needed. This week, he allowed his bruised, battered team to prepare for its regular-season finale without wearing helmets once.
On Sunday, the approach worked. The Broncos came out fast, crisp and tenacious. After a season of slow starts, they sprinted through and past the Raiders in a game that quickly became a rout.
"He understood our bodies, I think, better than a lot of coaches I've had," Harris said. "A lot of coaches, they want to grind you out, wear you down, and then you don't have any juice during the season. Kubiak is one of the best at taking care of the players, making sure everybody's fresh. That's the one thing I loved the most. He's just always taking care of us."
Talib figured that Kubiak's methods added two years to his career.
"Kub is the godfather of taking care of bodies," Talib said. "The way he takes care of the vets, takes care of the older guys -- I pray that the next coach is like that, man. We're definitely going to miss that if he's not."
Not only did Kubiak keep his players fresh, he treated them as men.
"With the other regime, I came in as a rookie and it was hard to grow out of that rookie stuff, even four years down the line, that staff sees you for what you were," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "With Coach Kubiak, he had this light -- especially with me. It felt like he had confidence in me and that he trusted in me. It felt like he wanted me to be a leader of the team.
"He was always cool and confident with me, and that's exactly what I needed. He came at a perfect time in my career."
The growth and maturation of players like Miller is part of Kubiak's gift to the team in the last two seasons. So is the fact that the team kept alive its streak of consecutive winning seasons. With a defense still in its prime and a core set to return for 2017, continued contention is expected.
Go behind-the-scenes after the final Broncos victory of the year. (Photos by Eric Bakke)
No matter what happens in the next few weeks, Miller doesn't think he'll have to do much selling of the Broncos to potential free agents. Just 11 months removed from a world title, and with the heart of an elite defense still strong, Kubiak's work helped ensure the Broncos remain in a spot most of the league envies.
"You look up and see the crowd cheering for you and the banners, you get that winning vibe," Miller said. "We have a championship facility. When you meet the front-office guys, they're championship guys, from John Elway all the way down to the cooks. They are championship guys.
"When you come into the Denver Broncos' facility and feel the energy, there won't be too much selling that I have to do."
And that may well be the greatest gift Kubiak provided, because it resulted in an organization with even higher expectations, through a world championship that wouldn't have been possible without him. After 16 seasons without reaching the summit, Kubiak got them there. He raised the bar.
"Whoever Elway and them bring, is going to be a great fit for us, and he's going to inherit a lot of talent," Harris said, later adding, "We're not that far off."
Thanks to Kubiak, the Broncos know the path to getting back there.