DENVER — Hope I’m wrong. Hope you’re wrong, too. Hope everybody — well, everybody might be pushing it, so we’ll just say most folks I hear from — is wrong about Vance Joseph, football coach.
Hope he wins big with the Broncos.
But he's fighting a serious battle against public perception just one year in.
Joseph did it again Wednesday, at the scouting combine, and I just can't let these sound bytes slide anymore. It took one live-streamed press conference — on a random Wednesday in February, when Joseph’s second season doesn’t begin for another six months — to remind what drove me bananas about the most frustrating Broncos season in a lifetime: the coach treats us like we’re a bunch of dummies.
You and me, I mean. Like we’re a bunch of dummies.
“My approach hasn’t changed,” Joseph told reporters in Indianapolis.
He just overhauled a huge chunk of his coaching staff.
“I’m not down on our draft class from last season,” he said.
He can't really believe that. Only one of seven draft picks, left tackle Garett Bolles, made a positive impact as a rookie. And the kicker — not Brandon McManus, but the line that returned me to a frustrated place — came when Joseph was asked what advice he’d give himself this time last year, long before 5-11 happened and the Broncos sat out the playoffs again.
“Win more games. Simple as that,” Joseph said. “Win more games.”
With that, I was triggered right out of my Broncos safe space. I went full Facebook-after-an-election. Are these things frustrating, or is it just me? It’s almost as if fans and media are the only ones conducting an honest and mindful assessment here. The strangest part of Joseph’s disingenuous dispatches to Broncos fans is that they fly directly in the face of the message he lives: truth. Passing around T-shirts emblazoned with “TRUTH” was one of his first orders of business as Denver’s 16th head coach. He wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — but then says that Paxton Lynch “played well” at Oakland.
Paxton Lynch threw for 41 yards and left the game with an injury.
What's playing not well?
All I’m asking — all a bunch of us are asking — is for the actual truth. Or some hint of the truth, at least. I'm rooting for Lynch to succeed, here or somewhere else, but it turns fans against a young athlete when it's obvious they're being sold a bill of goods. They get resentful, and Broncos fans aren't easily fooled. The Broncos are a Super Bowl contender more often than most teams, which means they've seen enough good football around these hills to know the difference. Losing is one thing — it happens — but no one here wants to endure another year of being told green is red, up is down and sunshine is rain. That’s why I’m writing this now, six months from Joseph’s second season, while there’s plenty of time to change the sincerity of his message.
Because we’re not dummies.
If we are dummies, the Minnesota Vikings are dummies, too. It was the Vikings who offered $20,000 per week to former Northern Colorado QB Kyle Sloter — nearly triple what a practice-squad guy usually makes — after Joseph dismissed off-hand the notion whenever it was suggested Sloter looked the part of an NFL quarterback in training camp. And if we’re dummies, the Broncos are dummies, too. It's scientifically impossible to have that many great weeks of practice and lose games by 21, 25, 26 and 28 points.
“Life’s too short to rebuild in the NFL,” general manager John Elway told reporters in Indianapolis on Wednesday.
That's the truth, especially around here, and Elway sounded like the boss who raided free agency in 2014, when Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders began to plan a parade route.
“I still think we’re not too far away. Obviously we have to get better at (quarterback). We didn’t play well there last year," Elway said. "That doesn’t all go on the players. There were some things that we should have done differently that we didn’t do. I feel like we can get right back in the thick of the things rather quickly."
OK, I know what you’re thinking: it’s a February press conference, for cryin’ out loud. What do you expect, a State of the Union? 'Course not. But it's worth a reminder that it was at Joseph’s introductory press conference, back on Jan. 12, 2017, when I first wrote Joseph could struggle here. I used the term “underwhelming” to describe the first impression. You saw what happened next: 5-11, with more underprepared and, yes, underwhelming performances than we should see in a decade of Broncos seasons.
Can Joseph be honest about things we can all see in Year 2? Hope so. Broncos fans deserve better than “win more games.” Simple as that.