Alex Gibbs, 80, a legendary football coach whose innovative zone-blocking scheme helped lead the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the 1990s, died July 12, 2021, at home with his family in Phoenix, Arizona. Alex was born February 11, 1941, in Morganton, North Carolina, the second son of Ned and Maude Gibbs.
A member of the Davidson College class of 1963, Alex was a running back and defensive back for the Wildcats, where he is forever remembered in the Davidson Wildcats Hall of Fame. At Davidson, Alex cultivated the unfailing work ethic, capacity for intense study, voracious appetite for learning and growth, and compassion for young people that would define the rest of his life. Though Alex initially had his sights set on a career as a teacher or high school principal, the realities of providing for his young, growing family tugged him in a different direction.
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Alex enjoyed a booming career coaching college football. A teacher by temperament if not by profession, Alex was known to drive his Mt. Airy Bears to their games in the school bus, where they no doubt enjoyed his unique knack for stimulating conversation.
In 1984, he made the move to professional football, joining the Denver Broncos as an offensive line coach, before coaching stints with the Raiders, Chargers, Colts, and Chiefs. In 1995, Alex returned to Denver as assistant head coach, and it was during this time that he helped the Broncos snag the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy in 1997 and 1998.
For the next several decades, Alex enjoyed a fruitful and storied career as an assistant head coach for various NFL teams before finishing his official career consulting with the New Orleans Saints. Alex never left his aspirations as an educator behind; indeed, generations of players remember him as a caring, supportive teacher as much as a hard-nosed gridiron strategist.
Though he had thousands of “war stories” from the field, Alex lit up in a special way recounting the innumerable hours he spent with players’ minds and hearts: talking them through tough personal problems; offering quirky discussion topics in the locker room and facilitating lively debate; sharing in their triumphs, accomplishments, and growth as humans. He also never stopped being the curious young student from his Davidson days. Though not one to boast, Alex held a doctorate in French history and plowed through nearly a book a day—history, mysteries, memoir, philosophy.
During his retirement in Phoenix, he could often be spotted holding court early mornings at a local coffee shop, distributing homegrown tomatoes to anyone who wanted them, already having conquered Camelback or Piestewa Peak or the Phoenix Mountain Preserve before 7 a.m., beaming from ear to ear because the library had gotten his books in, and then trucking off on his beater bicycle to collect his treasures from the library and a few groceries from Safeway before returning home to his beloved bride, Trina, his partner since 1995, and the cats he doted on.
Possessed of seemingly boundless energy, Alex was an enthusiastic traveler, going on a buffalo roundup in South Dakota and exploring the Galapagos with Trina, running marathons, gardening, volunteering, and coaching football players of all ages well past the date of his official “retirement.”
Thanks to his contributions to the game and the careers of many legends, Alex’s memory will be preserved by anyone who loves football; he will be remembered even more durably by those who had the great fortune to know the man who belongs in the Father, Grandfather, Husband, and Friend Hall of Fame.
Alex was a teacher at heart: a tender, optimistic, kind-hearted man who loved and protected children and animals; who lived for authentic human connection; and who never quit learning and growing or believing that others could.
He is preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife, Trina Gibbs of Phoenix, Ariz.; brothers Clay Gibbs (Judy) of Florida, and David Gibbs (Leslie) of North Carolina; his children, Sandy Murphy (Don) of Alabama, Steve Spalding (Terry) of Georgia, David Gibbs (Debbie) of Florida, Chuck Gibbs (Raquel) of Georgia, and Mark Spalding (Afrat) of Texas; 13 grandchildren; and five nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Alex’s honor can be made to Hospice of the Valley, Grand Canyon Trust, or the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL). As requested by Alex, no service will be held.