To embrace Vance Joseph as the next head coach of the Broncos, you will have to excuse his previous game. Here, let me help.
In 1992, the Broncos lost their regular-season finale, 42-20 to the Chiefs. The defensive coordinator for the blowout? Wade Phillips. The Broncos opened the next season with a new head coach. His name? Wade Phillips.
So if you look at it that way, the decision by Broncos don John Elway to hire Joseph as head coach, according to a report from 9News reporter Mike Klis, must be based on Joseph's leadership and not solely on his X's and O's — and it probably was made months ago, long before Gary Kubiak stepped aside (something Elway knew was coming, since they’re old buddies), long before the Broncos spiraled out of the playoff picture, long before Joseph’s defense laid an ostrich egg in the playoffs in Miami's 30-12 loss to the Steelers. Elway had his guy in mind and hired him.
It's official.— John Elway (@johnelway) January 11, 2017
Excited to announce Vance Joseph as head coach of the Denver Broncos! pic.twitter.com/m87uUn9KXs
Either that speaks to Joseph’s ability to crush an interview, or Elway’s belief that Joseph is a superior coaching prospect to Dave Toub and Kyle Shanahan. Or both.
The bottom line: Joseph, 44, wasn't going to be hired as the 16th coach of the Broncos because of his work with Miami’s defense or Cincinnati, Houston or San Francisco’s defensive backs — the three NFL coaching jobs he held before this one.
Joseph is being hired because Elway and the Broncos brass believe he will make a fine CEO of the entire operation. This hire was about leadership. We talk often about the Broncos stealing a defensive blueprint from Seattle after Super Bowl XLVIII, but Elway also borrowed another clue to the championship formula: How Pete Carroll managed the volatile personalities inside Seattle’s robust locker room and prepared them to win the big one.
Joseph is coming off a bad season, if numbers are your thing: the defense he coordinated in Miami ranked 18th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed. Injuries were an issue. That should be taken into account. What should also be taken account is how the Bengals road-blocked Joseph’s exit from Cincinnati two years ago. Teams don’t do that sort of thing — prevent the upward mobility of a bright, young coach — unless the guy is really, really good at his job.
I preferred Dave Toub, the Chiefs special teams coordinator, even if taking something from the state of Missouri and expecting it to be smart and productive twists my common-sense compass into knots. I value consistency and appreciated that Toub rarely has gone through a bad season. But I wasn’t married to the idea of Toub. I don’t know him from Adam. We're all guessing here.
Truth is, the Broncos rolling with Joseph or Kyle Shanahan was going to be a major risk. Neither has been a head coach (and neither has Toub). Neither has been particularly effective as coordinators (you saw Joseph’s results in his first season in that position; Shanahan’s offense ranked 21st, 27th, 23rd, fourth, 26th and 25th in scoring until it landed with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and a bunch of freaky running backs). Neither was a gimme. Either could be Josh McDaniels.
You knew what you were getting with John Fox. Same for Gary Kubiak. But for the first time since McDaniels blew in like a hurricane and left similar wreckage behind, the head coach is a question mark.
What Joseph now could do — to help himself and the Broncos — is twofold:
1. Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp should be in the same position. The former San Francisco/Atlanta/Oakland offensive coordinator got way more out of Trevor Siemian (and, apparently, Brock Osweiler, in his final season in Denver) than anyone expected. Developing the young quarterbacks is priority No. 1.
2. Go back to the name we mentioned at the beginning, Phillips. Retain the defensive coordinator — unless Ol’ Wade, 69, is asking for a ridiculous amount of money in the twilight of his coaching career. I think Phillips is gone; asking for a raise during a season in which the team misses the playoffs probably doesn't sit well upstairs at Dove Valley. But if you remove a successful coach from a successful locker room, it sends a message. It’s not a message a first-year coach wants to send a proud defense that would question anything that changes. If the coordinator isn't Phillips, it can't be Joseph. The head coach doesn't need to call the plays. If Joseph is the locker-room CEO the Broncos think he is, be the CEO the Broncos think he is.
ESPN reports the Broncos will interview ex-Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and ex-Chargers coach Mike McCoy for their offensive-coordinator vacancy on Thursday.
But that final game for Joseph’s defense in Miami? Fuhgedaboudit.