Alex Gibbs, innovative Broncos offensive line coach, dies at 80

The Denver Broncos and the NFL lost an influential figure on Monday. Longtime assistant coach Alex Gibbs died from complications from a stroke, the team announced. He was 80.

An offensive innovator, Gibbs rose from the collegiate ranks to the NFL in 1984, joining the Broncos as an offensive line coach before he eventually helped turn the Broncos into a force in the 1990s.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Alex Gibbs, who had a profound impact on the Denver Broncos and the National Football League as an offensive line coach,” the Broncos said in a statement Monday. “During his 14 years with the Broncos, Coach Gibbs left a lasting legacy on this league with his innovative blocking schemes and outstanding teaching ability. He helped the Broncos to Super Bowls during three different decades — including back-to-back World Championships — while forging a reputation as one of the greatest assistant coaches in NFL history.

“Our hearts go out to Alex’s wife, Trina, and the entire Gibbs family as well as Alex’s many former players and fellow coaches.”

Under Gibbs’ direction, Denver transformed its approach up front, leading to consecutive Super Bowl triumphs in the final years of John Elway’s Hall of Fame career. Gibbs bucked conventional wisdom with his new direction for his blockers, implementing an idea he’d first started to form in his initial stint with the Broncos in the 1980s.

Gibbs reimagined Denver’s offensive line with its personnel, switching from hulking, slower offensive linemen typical of the era to a more agile group capable of executing his vision. Instead of relying on traditional traps and double teams, Denver switched to a zone scheme, confounding opposing defenses with their fluid blocking paths that opened alleys for Terrell Davis to run through to an NFL MVP, two Lombardi Trophies and a place in Canton.

The new take on run blocking created a machine for Denver, producing annual 1,000-yard rushers from 1995-2000. Under the direction of Gibbs and head coach Mike Shanahan, Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson each broke 1,000 yards in that span, with Davis doing so in four consecutive seasons before being succeeded by Gary and Anderson into the new millennium. Clinton Portis followed in the trio’s lucrative footsteps by rushing for 1,000-plus yards in both 2002 and 2003, the final two seasons of Gibbs’ second stint in Denver.

Gibbs eventually moved on to Atlanta in 2004, remaining there through 2006 before joining Houston in 2008 and then transitioning to Seattle in 2010. He returned for one more season with the Broncos in 2013.

With Gibbs back in the fold, Denver once again became an offensive juggernaut, but this time it was through the air. Peyton Manning set single-season records for touchdown passes and passing yards in 2013, which saw the Broncos return to the Super Bowl before falling to the Seattle Seahawks. In that campaign, Denver allowed its quarterbacks to be sacked just 20 times.

Gibbs also spent time working for the then-Los Angeles Raiders (1988-1989), San Diego Chargers (1990-1991), Indianapolis Colts (1992) and Kansas City Chiefs (1993-1994).

While Shanahan often received the majority of credit for Denver’s innovative offensive scheme, Gibbs’ fingerprints were all over it and cover many of the offenses we see in the NFL today. Whenever a group of linemen take gradual, arcing paths upfield from first to second level while a running back receives a handoff behind him and finds space to burst toward daylight, a fan will be reminded of the contributions of Alex Gibbs.

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