Minnesota native, NFL vet Ryan Harris knows Vikings assistants Kubiak, Dennison well
EAGAN, Minn. — When Ryan Harris gives his wife flowers, he often thinks of Gary Kubiak.
Harris, a former NFL tackle who starred at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, played three seasons for Kubiak when he was head coach at Houston and Denver. That included a victory in Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos to close the 2015 season.
Kubiak, now assistant head coach/offensive adviser for the Vikings, dispensed advice to Harris that had more to do with just football. Harris uses it now as a radio broadcaster, when giving speaking engagements around the country and at his home in suburban Denver.
“He taught me a lot that I still use to this day as a broadcaster, as a speaker and as a father,” said Harris, who played in the NFL from 2007-16. “One of things he used to tell us was, ‘Hey, guys, get some flowers for your wife once in a while.’ Now, as a husband, I give my wife flowers every once in a while because Kubiak said so.”
Harris grew up a big Vikings fan and hoped to play for them one day. That didn’t happen, but now he can follow two of his favorite coaches with the Vikings.
Harris played six seasons in Denver and Houston with Rick Dennison as his offensive coordinator or offensive line coach. Dennison is now Minnesota’s offensive line coach/run game coordinator, joining the team on the same day Kubiak did in January.
“Both are great coaches,” said Harris, now a Denver sports talk host and football radio analyst at Notre Dame, his alma mater. “I had great success with both and consider both to this day people I could call on if I need anything. … Any time you can surround your team with championship-level knowledge of the game of football and how to manage players and put them in position to win, you’re going to do it.”
Harris played under Kubiak and Dennison with the Texans from 2012-13 in addition to 2015 in Denver. He also was coached by Dennison with the Broncos from 2007-09.
“Kubiak is one of the most respected coaches in all the NFL, and he’s respected because of how he understands the game, how he evolves and how he’s honest with his players,” Harris said. “He’s open to hearing ideas.”
Harris thinks Kubiak will help improve a team that ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense last season. He doesn’t believe there will be any friction with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
“In my experience with leadership, people are either who or what people,” Harris said. “I know from working with Gary Kubiak, he is a what guy. He could care less about who gets the credit.”
Harris also expects the Vikings to improve the offensive line with Dennison. Minnesota’s line struggled last season, starting with sudden death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano just before the start of training camp.
“Rico’s an analytics guy,” Harris said. “He really demands a lot from his players, and he’s very vocal in practice. Excuses aren’t a part of his makeup.”
Under Dennison, the Vikings’ line has shifted from a gap-blocking to a zone-blocking scheme. Harris believes that will stretch defenses and “create more one-on-one matchups for a running back like Dalvin Cook to break loose.”
As he did with Kubiak, Harris developed a close personal relationship with Dennison. He said the coach regularly invited him and other players to his home.
Harris is now returning some favors. He has given Kubiak a list of Twin Cities restaurants he should visit. He plans to reach out to Dennison soon to provide community advice.