When the New England Patriots attempted a tying 2-point conversion against Denver with 12 seconds left in the AFC Championship Game, David Pierce was more tense than at any time during his first year as Tulane baseball coach.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak is his brother-in-law.
“The stress level was at its peak,” Pierce admitted two days after the Broncos stopped Tom Brady’s pass and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl. “I actually get more nervous watching his games than coaching our games. There’s no control. I was laying on my couch in the living room and kind of went through the roof.
“He’s not only my brother-in-law. He’s one of my really good friends.”
Pierce and Kubiak met at St. Pius X High School in Houston, which they attended along with Pierce’s future wife, Susan, and Kubiak’s future wife, Rhonda.
Pierce recalls his first date with Susan, who is three years younger than her brother, as a picnic double-date with Gary and Rhonda.
The bond between them has lasted since then, and the Pierces have not missed a down of the Broncos’ playoff run. They even attended Denver’s divisional-round victory against Pittsburgh, watching a fishing show with the Kubiaks on Sunday morning before the game because Gary did not want to talk about football.
Seeing Kubiak guide his team to a Super Bowl in his first year with the Broncos means everything to Pierce, who had an up-close view for most of Kubiak’s eight-year tenure in Houston that produced two AFC South titles and two playoff wins before he was fired late in the 2013 season.
“It’s really exciting because he’s done everything in his career the right way,” Pierce said. “For him to be going to the Super Bowl as a head coach is the ultimate for him and well-deserved.”
Pierce was an assistant coach with the Rice baseball team while Kubiak coached Houston from 2006-11. The Texans’ facility was less than five minutes from the Rice campus.
When Kubiak first accepted the Texans’ job, his youngest son, Klein, lived with the Pierces for his first semester in Houston while the family got settled.
Pierce knows Kubiak as well as almost anyone, and he is not surprised by his immediate success in what could have been a difficult situation, taking over a veteran Denver team with a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality in what might be the final year of quarterback Peyton Manning’s career.
In high school, he saw all of the qualities that helped Kubiak to a nine-year NFL career as the backup quarterback to John Elway with the Broncos, three Super Bowl victories as an assistant coach (one with San Francisco, two with Denver) and now his triumphant return as head coach.
“He was always the best player, but he was also one of the hardest workers,” Pierce said. “He had that ‘it’ factor that people followed. His biggest asset is his consistency and his even-keeled demeanor. He really never gets too high and never gets too low. He truly is a grinder, a daily grinder.”
In coaching parlance, that’s the highest compliment. Pierce says Kubiak has returned the favor at every one of his coaching stops — as a Rice assistant, his first head coaching job at Sam Houston State and now at Tulane.
“He’s been such a supporter and mentor,” Pierce said. “He’s a guy that I like to bounce things off of. We have a friendship, but I also depend on him at times just to answer a question here and there.”
With Tulane baseball practice starting Friday, Pierce is not sure if he will attend the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California. Regardless, he knows he will expend a ton of emotional energy as Denver faces Carolina.
“They (Kubiak and his wife) have just been a huge part or our family,” he said. “They are my family and have been for over 30 years.”