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Paul Klee: Overwhelming theme of Vance Joseph's underwhelming Broncos introduction was inexperience

By: Paul Klee
January 12, 2017 Updated: January 13, 2017 at 9:47 am
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Vance Joseph, left, smiles as general manager John Elway looks on after Joseph was introduced as the new head coach of the Denver Broncos during a news conference at the team's headquarters Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER - The Broncos players are going to love Vance Joseph the most.

It's not hard to see why. During the course of his introductory press conference at Dove Valley on Thursday, Joseph was at his best when the time came to greet a huddle of players at the front of the auditorium. He gripped their attention with an enthusiasm that screamed football, platitudes piled on platitudes, several of which he used to describe the attitude he hopes to cultivate around these hills: "swagger," "confidence," "team first."

So don't worry about the locker room. There, Joseph, 44, will be as good as advertised.

"We pay them. So they're going to do their job. But the extra gets the wins," Joseph said after general manager John Elway introduced Joseph as the 16th head coach of the Broncos. "The extra comes with a commitment to the player that's personal."

But the rest? The rest I would be worried about - at least until Joseph completes a coaching staff that matches the talent on the field. Elway said his door is open - and probably nudged a little further open these days - but the staff is up to the head coach. The first-time head coach.

The overwhelming theme of Joseph's underwhelming introduction was inexperience. It can work with a first-timer if he has the right voices around him. But questioning if Joseph is ready for what's to come is a fair critique when you consider the pressure cooker that is the Broncos, a franchise on its fourth head coach in eight years - or its seventh coach in eight years, if you consider the three interims who took over when Josh McDaniels got canned and John Fox and Gary Kubiak got sick. There's been a mountain of wins along the way - 67 in the regular season since Elway took the keys, second-most in the NFL - a fact that only cranks up the heat on the Broncos coach when a solid chunk of the state can identity him before it can identify the governor.

"This team is less than a year removed from a world championship," Elway pointed out, another reminder the Broncos gig comes with a reception, but not a honeymoon.

The most important aspect of the new equation in Broncos Country is Joseph's staff. The offensive coordinator seems like a no-brainer, with former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy interviewing for the job directly after Joseph was introduced. What should be an obvious choice for defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips, whose 39 years of NFL experience would look swell alongside a first-time head coach. But it doesn't look good for Ol' Wade in Colorado. He's considered a top candidate in California (with the Los Angeles Rams, not the Los Angeles Chargers, and can we get the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas already?).

"Wade's a free agent. He's free to go where he wants to go," said Joseph, who referred to Phillips as "one of my football dads." "That's a work in progress obviously."

The Broncos are choosing to enter the AFC gantlet against the likes of Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin with a coach on his first go-round. That's cool, if he has help.

The AFC isn't messing around. Peek around at the coaches still coaching on Jan. 13: New England, with no explanation necessary; Kansas City, where Reid has ex-head coach Brad Childress and three decades of know-how in Bob Sutton; Houston, where Bill O'Brien has former head coach Romeo Crennel; Pittsburgh, where the Steelers helped Tomlin into his first shot and ushered in a new era of winning by retaining legendary defensive coach Dick LeBeau. It's a jungle out there, especially when your quarterbacks are 24 and 22 years old.

"He's going to grow on the run," Elway said of Joseph.

"You've got to believe in people," Elway added. "Sure, you'd love to have tremendous experience for everybody. But I just think Vance is ready to go and his experience in the past will help him grown in this position."

There's no ego with Joseph. That's a wonderful thing and showed he's the polar opposite of McDaniels, the most recent first-time coach the Broncos hired. When media injected race into the conversation, the Broncos' first black head coach promptly removed it.

"I'm proud. Hopefully going forward that part's not considered any longer," Joseph said. "As we go along in the future it shouldn't matter what color you are if you can do the job."

The Broncos are starting over, this time from scratch. There's no Peyton Manning to lean on as the great house painter who covers up all the cracks, no Gary Kubiak to offer familiarity as a safety blanket.

"Most first-time head coaches, the job they receive are mostly broken," Joseph said. "This job is not broken."

Joseph said he hopes to finalize his staff within a week or so.

"I'm not rushed because the staff is critical to our success," he said.

For a head coach growing on the run, as Elway put it, the hires after the hire are the most critical parts of the Broncos' next era. Choose wisely.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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