If you want to spark a heated debate, bring up the name Vance Joseph.
Since Gary Kubiak retired over a week ago, it’s been reported that the job of Denver Broncos head coach is “Joseph’s to lose.” Multiple Broncos and NFL reporters have also said Joseph is the leading candidate. Of course, just like the weather in Colorado, wait 15 minutes and that will change.
It seems of all three candidates in contention for the best job in the NFL, Joseph is the most contentious. Fans seems to either love or hate him. There isn’t much middle ground. Those who love this choice see a brilliant young football mind who knows how to communicate, lead and manage players and a staff. Those who hate it see Joseph’s lone year as defensive coordinator and come away unimpressed - especially when you look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers torched his defense on Wild Card Weekend. There’s also the inexperience factor and the unknown of how that fixes the Broncos offense.
There is a small number who see both sides. When they look at Joseph, they see a coach in the mold of Mike Tomlin when he was hired, coincidentally, in Pittsburgh 10 years ago.
This story attempts to dive deeper into Joseph’s background and let fans know more about the man who could become the 16th coach in Broncos’ history.
In case you missed it last week:
Birthdate - Sept. 20, 1972
Birthplace - Marrero, La. Marrero is on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, within the New Orleans–Metairie–Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area. It’s a census-designated place in the Jefferson Parish.
High school - Attended Marrero Archbishop Shaw. Joseph was the starting quarterback for three seasons. In 1987, he led the Eagles to the Class 4A (top classification) state title and was the runner up in 1988. Joseph also was the starting guard on Archbishop Shaw’s back-to-back state title-winning basketball team. Here’s some more info on his high school days.
College - Attended and played football at the University of Colorado from 1990-95. He joined the Buffaloes as a quarterback but quickly shifted to running back. In his career at CU, Joseph finished 34-of-61 passing for 454 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 50 carries for 237 yards and a touchdown.
NFL - Joesph was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Jets in 1995, and made the switch to defensive back. He also played one season for the Indianapolis Colts. In his two-year career, Joseph started 7 of the 17 games he played and recorded two interceptions. He also had 17 tackles.
Coaching - Shortly after Joseph’s playing career concluded, he returned to the Buffs as a graduate assistant, a role he held from 1999-2001. In 2002, Joseph made the trek north to Laramie, Wyo., where he served as the defensive backs coach at the University of Wyoming. After just one season with the Pokes, Joseph returned to CU as the defensive backs coach, where he stayed until 2003. In 2004, he was hired as the defensive backs coach at Bowling Green. After his one-year stop with the Falcons, Joseph made the jump to the NFL, where he has stayed.
Joseph was initially hired by the 49ers as an assistant defensive backs coach in 2005. In 2006, he was promoted to defensive backs coach. It’s a position he shared with Johnnie Lynn until 2010, when Lynn resigned for personal reasons. In Joseph’s five seasons as defensive backs coach, San Francisco’s best pass defense ranking was 20th in 2007. While the team was far from impressive, the 49ers best record in that time was 8-8, he did enough to catch the eye of two men Broncos Country knows very well. Joseph also learned from one of the best defensive minds the NFL has seen in the last quarter century. Any chance Joseph gets, he raves about the men he learned from.
"Mike Nolan hired me in San Fran and Mike has been a great defensive mind in the league for a long time. I leave Mike and I go to Wade Phillips in Houston. That was the ultimate guy to work with because Wade is a great guy, but he’s played more top 10 defense than anybody in NFL history.
Joseph was hired by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips as the Texans’ secondary coach in 2011. That also was Phillips’ first year as the defensive coordinator in Houston. In two of his three seasons, Houston’s pass defense ranked No. 3. But more importantly, Joseph again learned how to coach in the NFL from some of the best. Coupled with his first stop, Joseph hit the jackpot yet again.
"I think every game is going to be different. I grew up with Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and he is aggressive all of the time. That’s Wade’s deal. Every game is going to be different and I’m going to call the game to win the game that day. It can be conservative, it can be aggressive, but it’s more about the team and how the team can win the game that day."
Joseph hit the jackpot again when he was hired as the Bengals defensive backs coach in 2014. This time in the Queen City, he got the chance to work with Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer. His two seasons with the Bengals weren’t that impressive, both seasons they finished 20th in passing defense. But what you take away is the experience. In that same feature from the Dolphins’ website:
Leaving (Houston) and going to Cincy with Marvin Lewis, who’s been a great defensive mind also and Mike Zimmer and those guys, it’s been a blessing to be around three or four top-tier guys in this business. Those guys teach you what it looks like, so when you see it, you know it."
It also was in 2015 Kubiak and John Elway interviewed Joseph for the defensive coordinator job with the Broncos. Lewis and Cincinnati didn’t allow Joseph out of his contract, but it set the stage for two years later. There was still one stop to make before we arrive at that destination.
Familiar face Adam Gase gave Joseph his first crack as defensive coordinator in 2016. The stats have been far from impressive. And, of course, you have what happened in Pittsburgh on Wild Card weekend. If you’re reactionary and look only at that game, you won’t like Joseph. But if you look at the whole package, you see why he’s in the running.
That leads us to where we are right now.
Joseph will interview today with Elway and the other front office staff in Denver. As noted earlier, there is a Tomlin-esque feel to this. Yes, they’re both young, but both were defensive coordinators for one year. They also were longtime defensive backs coaches in the NFL. They’re both incredibly bright football minds, and they know how to communicate, lead and manage. If Joseph keeps Phillips on the defensive staff, as Mike Florio reported on Monday is a possibility, that makes the decision even better.
Of course, there’s always a chance that Joseph becomes Dennis Allen. Just like Joseph, Allen was viewed as a young, up-and-coming coach when he was the defensive coordinator in Denver. Yet in his first attempt as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders, it didn’t go well at all for Allen. One has to wonder if he was put in a no-win situation. Still, he didn’t do enough as the head coach.
As is the case with all three candidates Elway is interested in, there’s always a risk. What you do is take the whole story and make the best decision for the Broncos. Here’s the line we all have heard in a job hunt: “Who is the best fit?”
Regardless of how fans feel about him, Elway may decide Joseph is his man.