Vance Joseph is the 16th head coach in Denver Broncos’ history after the two sides finalized a four-year contract Wednesday.
Joseph is also the franchise’s first African American to become its permanent head coach. The Broncos promoted running backs coach Eric Studesville as interim head coach for the final four games of the 2010 season.
Studesville is still coaching running backs for the Broncos and is expected to be retained.
As with any new head coaching hiring, however, the status of other Bronco assistants is uncertain, including that of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose contract expires Feb. 1. Rather than re-up Phillips, the Broncos will have to consider promoting secondary coach Joe Woods, who has drawn interest from other teams as a possible defensive coordinator candidate.
Excited to announce Vance Joseph as head coach of the Denver Broncos! pic.twitter.com/m87uUn9KXs— John Elway (@johnelway) January 11, 2017
Joseph, 44, is a former University of Colorado backup quarterback who played cornerback for the New York Jets in 1995-96. He started his coaching career as a CU grad assistant in 1999 before eventually working his way to the NFL in 2005 as an assistant defensive backs coach for San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary.
Joseph has spent his 12 NFL coaching seasons as a defensive coach -- 11 instructing defensive backs and this past year as the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator.
A five-man Broncos search committee also interviewed Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub and Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for the head coaching position that was vacated on Jan. 2 when Gary Kubiak retired for health reasons.
It was Broncos’ general manager John Elway who led the search and chose Joseph, believing in his overall leadership quality, teaching ability and overall approach as the right man to lead the Broncos back to the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl.
There will be Bronco fans who question the decision because of one, Joseph’s spotty record as a defensive coordinator and, two, Denver’s current makeup that has been strong on defense, weak on offense.
Joseph has held that top assistant post for just one year and it don’t go well statistically, as the Dolphins’ defense ranked 29th in the 32-team league during the regular season, then was a sieve in allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers three touchdowns on their first three possessions in a first-round AFC playoff loss on Sunday.
However, the Dolphins’ defense suffered several significant injuries this season and head coach Adam Gase credited Joseph with keeping his unit functional enough to help Miami reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
It’s also worth noting Elway was seeking not necessarily the best coordinator, but the person he felt would be the best head coach.
Joseph has the type of alpha leadership personality, calm demeanor and ability to relate to young players that Elway deems a fit.
The Broncos’ locker room has a fair percentage of strong personalities that was managed to near perfection by Kubiak in 2015 when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.
But after a 4-0 start in 2016, the Broncos swooned, losing seven of their next 11 games to miss the playoffs for
the first time in six years. Their problems began when Kubiak suffered a complex migraine condition that required emergency medical attention following the Broncos’ first loss of the season in week 5 against Atlanta.
And then when the Broncos lost three in a row in December to miss the playoffs primarily because their offense failed to score more than 10 points, a few defensive players started to point blame at the other side of the ball.
Elway believes Joseph can get every player, not just most, to put team before self. Besides a possible underlying division between offense and defense, it was also a concern earlier in the season when receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas complained about not getting enough passes thrown their way.
The uncertain status of Phillips has drawn concern from the Broncos’ fan base. The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 primarily because of their defense that ranked No. 1 in the league.
Phillips’ defense featured both a tenacious pass rush led by DeMarcus Ware and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller and a man-to-man, suffocating secondary led by Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
It wasn’t just the players. Phillips’ defensive system is considered simple for his own players to execute while
employing varied pass rush attacks to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
As an encore in 2016, Denver’s defense wasn’t nearly as effective, primarily because it allowed more than 130 rushing yards a game to rank 28th in the league. But it was still No. 1 in pass defense and ranked No. 4 in overall defense and No. 4 in points allowed.
Phillips and the Broncos reached a snag in contract negotiations following last year’s Super Bowl. After sitting out the 2014 season, Phillips signed a two-year contract with the Broncos only after the team’s preferred choice, Joseph, was unable to get out of his contract as the Cincinnati Bengals’ secondary coach.
After the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, every coach whose contract expired after the 2016 season received a one-year extension – with the exception of Phillips.
With the league’s top defensive coordinators making north of $2 million per year, Phillips was asking to join the club. The Broncos balked saying they would revisit his deal after the 2016 season.
When Kubiak unexpectedly retired last week, the Broncos told Phillips his future with the club would be determined after the head coach is hired.
In the meantime, teams have expressed interest in Woods, a rising star who figures to become a strong head coaching candidate in the near future.
The Broncos’ offense, meanwhile, struggled the past two years. Most of the blame was directed at the offensive line that could never generate a consistent running attack, and at quarterback where Peyton Manning was in his final year in 2015 and Trevor Siemian was in his first year in 2016.
The Broncos’ offense ranked just 27th in yards this season and 22nd in points.
So why hire a defensive-minded head coach in Joseph that in turn shakes up the defensive staff instead of the offensive-minded Shanahan?
It did appear Elway was giving Shanahan strong consideration. Shanahan was impressive during his interview Saturday with the Broncos’ five-man search committee – Elway, chief executive officer and president Joe Ellis, director of player personnel Matt Russell, vice president of public relations Patrick Smyth and team administrator Mark Thewes -- in the Atlanta area.
And the Dolphins’ early defensive woes in their playoff loss at Pittsburgh didn’t help Joseph’s cause as it reinforced how bad his unit was throughout the season.
However, Joseph got his chance to sell himself Tuesday during a four-interview with the Broncos’ search committee in the Pat Bowlen conference room at the UCHealth Training Center.
Joseph then stayed over Tuesday night and dined with Elway and Russell and Elway’s steakhouse in Cherry Creek.
Joseph had a flight scheduled Wednesday afternoon from Denver to San Diego for a head coach interview with the Chargers. He was also to meet Thursday with the San Francisco 49ers about their head coach opening and possibly Friday with the Los Angeles Rams.
A minority hire is unprecedented for the Broncos. Not only have they never had a minority as their permanent head coach, they’ve only had one serve as coordinator in their 57-year history. That was Ray Rhodes, who served as defensive coordinator in 2001-02.
Joseph will be only the 18th African African permanent head coach in NFL history.