The announcement of Vance Joseph as the next head coach of the Denver Broncos was met largely with anger and confusion. I’ve described this process as a search for the best bad option, because there was so much unknown and risk involved to truly feel good about any of the available candidates.
And yet, the more I let this marinate, the better I started to feel. If you’re still pissed off or puzzled as to why Joseph ultimately wound up being the choice, maybe this will help bring you around. If Kyle Shanahan represents the coach that Broncos fans wanted, the flashy X’s and O’s guy whose offense may catapult Atlanta to its first Super Bowl victory, then Joseph teeters at the other end of that spectrum. He’s the coach we deserve, not for his ability to coordinate a defense, but for his knack at getting players to fall in line and do whatever it takes to win. If need be, they will go down kicking and screaming, as John Elway demands.
There are coaches who are better suited as coordinators instead of running an entire team. Why can’t the same be true of men who are fit to lead the entire 53-man roster, more so than designing gameplans for one side of the ball? Is that such a crazy idea?
On the surface, that may come off as an excuse for a coach who oversaw the league’s 29th ranked defense, especially after the beloved Wade Phillips wasn’t retained as defensive coordinator (although it appears that would’ve been the case regardless of who was hired). How could someone who has done so little to prove himself be ready for a job of this magnitude? Then again, if guiding a top-ranked unit was the only prerequisite required to be a great head coach, Josh McDaniels and Norv Turner would be on their way to Canton by now. That’s not the only thing we should be looking at. Mike Tomlin and Mike McCarthy found little success in their lone year as coordinators, but they are two of the most tenured and successful head coaches in the league right now.
With Peyton Manning retired and Gary Kubiak’s health failing him, there was a clear leadership void on the Broncos that became more and more evident as the season wore on. The offensive struggles divided the locker room at a time when the team needed to come together if they wanted to make the playoffs. Elway coveted Joseph because he believes that the former CU Buff can be the glue that holds the Broncos together through times of adversity, which in turn will keep them on a trajectory toward winning. Not just next season, but every season.
McDaniels was a disaster in this regard. Playcalling prowess doesn’t impress NFL players if you demand their loyalty without earning it first. Maybe Shanahan will be better at that, maybe not. It took Kevin and I a whole article to talk ourselves into him as a good idea and we still weren’t entirely convinced. On the flip side, Dolphins coach Adam Gase credited Joseph for keeping the beleaguered Miami D from completely falling apart, and that it was a crucial factor in the Dolphins’ first postseason berth in eight years. Look at any interview from Joseph’s former players and fellow coaches and they will all echo the same ideas: that he is tough but fair in the way that he communicates and he is entirely dedicated to winning. This ensured that he was well-respected everywhere he went.
Of course, it hasn’t been a fully seamless transition. The departure of Phillips only increased the fans’ consternation towards Joseph, and while new coordinator Joe Woods is regarded as an up-and-coming star in coaching circles (he better be), it still sucked to lose someone as classy and as qualified as Phillips. That being said, the Broncos’ defense will remain a force to be reckoned with and the offense received a much needed shot in the arm when Joseph brought in Mike McCoy and Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, respectively.
By all accounts, the Broncos have assembled a quality coaching staff. We know already that Elway will aggressively pursue impact players this offseason to shore up any weaknesses, and there is more than enough talent currently on the roster to keep this team competitive for the foreseeable future. It’s Joseph who’s the wild card here, and the one with the most to prove.
He doesn’t lack in the confidence or swagger department. He’s not afraid of the enormous expectations that come with coaching the Broncos. Most importantly, if he can provide this team with the kick in the ass that will keep them fighting for a Super Bowl instead of fighting each other, then he will turn out to be the coach that we needed AND the one that we deserved.
It’s a rare combination. It’s also the hallmark of a great coach. Time will tell who Vance Joseph truly is.