Denver Broncos general manager John Elway was expected to bring in a head-coaching candidate with Colorado ties, but it’s not the one many expected when the process began.
The Broncos hired Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as their next head coach, to replace retiring Gary Kubiak.
Excited to announce Vance Joseph as head coach of the Denver Broncos! pic.twitter.com/m87uUn9KXs
— John Elway (@johnelway) January 11, 2017
The Broncos chose Joseph over Atlanta Falcons coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose father coached Elway and the Broncos of the late 1990s to two Super Bowl titles. Joseph spent the past two days visiting the Broncos facility and canceled a scheduled interview for the vacant San Diego Chargers head-coaching position when it was clear a deal was going down in Denver on Wednesday.
The Broncos also interviewed Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, which gave Elway a nice swath of candidates from which to choose. But Elway picked the one with the defensive background.
Joseph, 44, steps into a great situation with a loaded Broncos defense, but his offensive coaching hires will be interesting. The Broncos struggled on offense during a 9-7 season, and the defending champions missed the postseason.
“During this process, we were very fortunate to spend time with three very qualified candidates who all could have been the next head coach of our team,” Elway said in a statement. “For us, Vance Joseph is the best fit to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos.
“Vance is very good football coach and teacher who is ready for this opportunity. His leadership qualities, his vision for building a championship team and his ability to get the most out of players are off the charts. In talking with Vance, the culture that he believes in and the culture of our organization are closely aligned and focused on one thing: Winning. He understands the high expectations this franchise has always had under Pat Bowlen, and he embraces them.
“We had the chance to get to know Vance a few years ago during his interview, and since that time, he’s only continued to have success and grow as a coach. I’m very excited to welcome Vance and his family to Denver, and I look forward to working with him on our goal of competing for World Championships.”
Shanahan has done a great job this season calling plays for the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, and his connections to Elway and Kubiak — they run basically the same Mike Shanahan-steeped offense — were thought to be huge advantages in potentially landing the job. Kyle Shanahan basically grew up around the Broncos’ facility as a prep quarterback while Elway and his father were in their primes.
But Elway sent out a tweet early this week that almost made it sound like he was moving away from Shanahan, even while praising him.
We spent the morning with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. He's a very bright coach who's had a tremendous year and has a great future.
— John Elway (@johnelway) January 7, 2017
And from that point on, the momentum with Joseph grew — even as his injury-plagued unit had a disappointing finish to the season, capped with Sunday’s wild-card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Elway is banking on a rising coach without any head-coaching experience, who has been an NFL coordinator just one season. Previous to running Miami’s defense this season, Joseph served as a defensive backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans (on Kubiak’s staff there) and Cincinnati Bengals over the past decade. Joseph played his college ball as a quarterback and running back at Colorado in the early 1990s, and his close relationship with Broncos director of player personnel Matt Russell — Joseph’s teammate with the Buffaloes — is believed to have played a big role in the Broncos considering him so strongly. Joseph also spent two seasons in the NFL as a cornerback, one with the New York Jets in 1995 and another with the Indianapolis Colts in 1996.
The Broncos are believed to be seeking a return of Mike McCoy, the former Chargers head coach who was recently fired, as Joseph’s possible offensive coordinator. McCoy served in that role for the Broncos from 2010 to 2012 and did great work with everyone from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning before landing the Chargers job. Landing McCoy — who also is closely tied to the same position for the Buffalo Bills job if Sean McDermott is named head coach there — would be a coup for Elway and Joseph to help revive the passing game.
Additionally, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is a free agent and could be a candidate for coaching jobs elsewhere. Hiring Joseph, who worked with Phillips in Houston on Kubiak’s staff, might be enough to keep Phillips in Denver to run one of the best units in the NFL. A Joseph-Phillips-McCoy trio could be a strong play for a team that should be back in the playoff hunt without drastic changes. And with the aggressive Elway, some huge player additions could be in the offing this offseason, too.
Broncos fans have learned to trust Elway, who has not been afraid to make bold moves in running the team, and they likely will be doing just that with the hire of Joseph. It might not be the coach we assumed the Broncos would hire initially, but the well-respected Joseph certainly lands in a great situation if they can work through a few issues that left them short of their goal to defend last season’s Super Bowl victory.
The hiring of Joseph almost feels like the Steelers bringing in Mike Tomlin a decade ago or the Baltimore Ravens hiring John Harbaugh. Like Joseph, Tomlin spent only one year as a coordinator, and as we’ve seen that hasn’t precluded him from success as a head coach. Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator and spent one year as an NFL secondary coach, but he also has won a lot of games and delivered a Super Bowl title.
Those are the same expectations in Denver — mile high — for Joseph as he embarks on his first year as a head coach.
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