Funny how things work out sometimes.
From 2011-13, Vance Joseph served as the Texans’ defensive backs coach, under head coach Gary Kubiak and (in that final year) defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. When the Texans cleaned house, Joseph landed in Cincinnati, also as DBs coach.
In 2015, after John Fox’s departure, the Broncos interviewed Joseph as a candidate to be their new coach, hiring Kubiak instead. The Broncos then tried to nab Joseph away from the Bengals to be their defensive coordinator. When the Bengals refused to let Joseph leave, Denver hired Phillips.
Now, with Kubiak stepping away from his post and Phillips’s contract up, Joseph has been named the Broncos’ coach.
Joseph, 44, spent this past season as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, following 14 years as a DBs coach, both at the college and pro levels. While its defense faded down the stretch, Miami did qualify for the playoffs at 10-6 and Joseph was believed to be instrumental in that accomplishment.
Regarded as an intelligent, confident coach with strong leadership skills, Joseph was on the radar of just about every team that entered 2017 looking for a new leading man. Joseph also had interviews scheduled with the Chargers and 49ers before he and Denver keyed in on a deal.
For their part, the Broncos kept a narrow focus in their coaching search after Kubiak left. They confirmed interviews with just three candidates: Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Kansas City special teams coach Dave Toub and Joseph.
Shanahan was an obvious option for the job, given his impressive work maximizing his quarterbacks’ talents throughout his career—Matt Ryan may be league MVP this season. The Broncos’ offense was its Achilles’ heel in 2016, with the offensive line and run game both sabotaging any potential development from QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Neither of those young signal-callers did much to lock himself into the starting job for 2017.
Rather than go that direction, though, Broncos’ executive vice president John Elway tabbed Joseph, with whom Elway no doubt had a certain level of familiarity despite Joseph coaching elsewhere. Not only did Joseph work under Kubiak and Phillips, he spent this year on the staff of Adam Gase, previously the offensive coordinator in Denver. And the Broncos’ director of pro personnel, Matt Russell, was Joseph’s college teammate at Colorado.
All of those ties could help the Broncos maintain some level of continuity, all as its former head coach and (likely) their defensive coordinator move on. Joseph may even keep a similar scheme to what Phillips ran on defense.
None of those points, however, help explain yet how the Broncos plan to fix their offense. A significant chunk of the challenge lies with Elway, who must upgrade along the O-line, for starters, if Denver is to shake off its disappointing 2016 season. Joseph’s hire at offensive coordinator, and the ensuing call on who plays QB in 2017, could be the two factors that determine his success in Denver.
SiriusXM’s Alex Marvez recently reported that the Broncos could reach out to ex-Chargers coach Mike McCoy about their O.C. job, a position McCoy held from 2009-12. If McCoy is not the preferred candidate at offensive coordinator, it’s very possible nonetheless that the Broncos chase down an experienced hand. Both Joseph and the Broncos’ young QBs could benefit from such a hire.
Grade: B. In terms of the excitement it will generate in Denver, Joseph’s hire probably falls behind Shanahan but ahead of Toub. (Joseph may get even more of a bump because of that time spent as a player at Colorado.)
There’s no question that this is a bit of a gamble, though. Joseph has just one season of experience as a coordinator, and he’s stepping into a highly demanding spot leading a team one year removed from being Super Bowl champions. John Fox was pushed out of Denver despite going 46-18 with four playoff appearances and one AFC title. The expectations are that this is a win-now team.
How realistic it is that Joseph actually produces the desired results, again, will come down in large part to how the offense is repaired—coaching-wise and in terms of personnel. Should that side of the ball remains a headache, all the more pressure will land on Joseph to match on the defensive side of the ball what Phillips accomplished during his brief, brilliant tenure as the Broncos’ coordinator.
There seemed to be little doubt around the league that Joseph was ready to be a head coach. This won’t be an easy spot for a first-timer to step in. If it backfires, the Broncos may rue their decision to pass on Shanahan.