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Woody Paige: Vance Joseph needs to coach better, and beat the 49ers, if he wants to stay with Denver Broncos

May 5, 2018 Updated: May 7, 2018 at 2:46 pm
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Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph talks on the sidelines, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Vance Joseph is not the worst NFL head coach.

However, he's next to last among 25 survivors from 2017 after leading the Broncos to disintegration.

The Broncos are eternally grateful to the Cleveland Browns. Coach Hue Jackson promised publicly after his first season (2016) that if the Browns repeated a 1-15 record, he would jump into Lake Erie. He was correct, they didn't go 1-15. The Browns eerily finished 0-16.

Hue still has a job, as does Vance, who, as a rookie coach, produced the Broncos' most abominable season since the McHoodie Reign of Terrible in 2010 and tied for the franchise's second-fewest victories in 46 seasons.

Will Joseph outlast Josh McDaniels, fired after 28 games with an 11-17 record, or Frank Filchock (7-20-1) or Mac Speedie (6-19-1)?

Game No. 29 will be Joseph's most critical. On Dec. 9, the Broncos play in Levi Stadium the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, the other Broncos' coaching finalist.

Joseph will confront other teams - the Rams, the Ravens, the Cardinals, the Chiefs, the Chargers and the Giants - with Broncos coaching connections. Wade Phillips is the Rams' defensive coordinator, and Mike McCoy has taken over as the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. Dave Toub and Anthony Lynn, passed over by the Broncos, are with the Chiefs and the Chargers. Rick Dennison is the Ravens' offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Tyke Tolbert joined the Giants as wide receivers assistant. Lots of people want revenge.

Joseph was one of six new coaches last year.

He inherited the bunch's "best'' team, the only one with a winning record the previous season. Vance said the Broncos were a "retool, not a rebuild.''

Joseph turned the Broncos into the "worst'' of the half dozen. Coaches in Jacksonville, Buffalo and Los Angeles made the playoffs; the Chargers improved to 9-7, and Shanahan won his last five with a new quarterback to end up 6-10.

John Elway, who chose to hire Joseph, intended to fire him at season's conclusion, but was persuaded, at the final moment, to bring him back for one more season "to fix it.''

Mr. Fixit has a short shelf life.

When he was retained, Joseph said he learned in 2017, but being one of 32 NFL coaches is not an internship or about on-the-job training. Before, the Broncos selected coaches who served as successful head coaches and veteran coordinators elsewhere, not a one-hit wonder defensive coordinator who was as a defensive backs coach for 11 seasons, and seven of those finishes were not above. 500.

Joseph sounded totally out of place in his first press conference, was virtually the same all season, and looked lost on the sideline in every game - with arms folded and eyes staring. He was outcoached in eight consecutive defeats and 10 of the last 12. Vance was hired because, supposedly, he was a leader of the locker room and men. The Broncos' locker room became chaotic as rookies acted entitled and older players revolted. Meanwhile, Joseph et al couldn't solve the quarterback quandary, and changed starters four times. The coach also stuck with, and up for, the most ineffective special teams coordinator and a returner who repeatedly fumbled.

So, the Broncos blamed OC McCoy, and Joseph fired him Nov. 20. The team was 2-4 the rest of the season, beating two teams that were just as awful as the Broncos. In an interview with ESPN after joining Arizona in the same capacity, McCoy said he learned to stay one series ahead of Joseph last season, asking Joseph about his mindset in certain situations. McCoy said he'd bounce ideas off Joseph, such as whether Joseph wanted to go with the Broncos' four-minute drill or whether he wanted McCoy to keep calling pass plays when the defense was playing well.

The draft was an "A-," and the acquisitions of Case Keenum and four other veterans will be critical.

But can Joseph professionally coach up the Broncos?

None of the road games will be stress-free (especially after a 1-7 mark as a visiting team in '17), and at least five of the home games will be difficult.

The Broncos could be 4-9 after a loss to the 49ers.

If so, the season would be over, and Joseph's short stay in Denver would be, too.

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