But the Broncos’ locker room was not joyous.
Case Keenum called it “somber.”
Joseph spoke to the team after Sunday’s game, emphasizing how proud he was in the players for continuing to work hard, continuing to compete.
“It was emotional. It was a good message he said,” said Will Parks. “He said a lot of things but I was crying at the time, so I didn’t really get the chance to hear all of it.”
Brandon Marshall - who hinted this week that while he’d love to remain with the team he helped win a Super Bowl - remembered a little bit more of the speech.
“He appreciated everybody’s professionalism. Nobody gave up. People asked us: ‘What do you have to play for?’ Nobody gave up,” the inside linebacker said. “We just kept playing for our personal pride, our families. We wanted to win each week. We just couldn’t get it done every time. We fought hard.”
"I think that the coach is responsible for a lot, but not everything. As I said, I'm responsible too. ... The evaluation starts today ... Where we start to get better is by looking in the mirror.”— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) December 31, 2018
-- John Elway
Broncos GM John Elway, who took a chance two years ago on hiring a first-time head coach and again last year when he gave Joseph another year to improve from the chaotic situation he had inherited, commended Joseph for his effort and growth and even took the blame for much of the season’s disappointment.
“I think Vance worked his tail off and made huge strides from the first year to the second year,” Elway said today. “Vance is a good man...unfortunately, we didn’t win enough football games, and ultimately, that’s what we have to do.”
Von Miller, another player who can remember the Super Bowl win three seasons ago, had nothing but love for his former coach.
“I love Coach VJ. He’s been instrumental in my growth as a leader and as a player,” Miller said. “He’s a great coach; these are the cards that we have to deal with. The players we drafted this year are going to be second-year players next year. I love VJ, and I love his approach. That’s where I’m at with it.”
Parks hinted at the public outcry against Joseph and defended Joseph.
“For the people that don’t know, yeah, maybe the past two years haven’t been what people would expect as far as the fans go. But they don’t know that that dude is one of the best head coaches I have ever been around, period,” he said. “As far as making sure everyone is working hard and dialed in at practice, all the way until game day to be ready for game day. He had us ready each and every week.”
Many critics would argue with Parks’ assessment about preparation, but the safety wasn’t backing down in his sentiment for the coach.
“Obviously, the score boards and record didn’t show that, but that is one of the most courageous and humblest guys I have ever met,” Parks added. “I am proud of VJ for coming into a tough situation like this and being able to stick through for two years. Obviously, whatever happens, happens, but I am proud of him. I am excited for his future whether it is here or not.”
I’m told Vance Joseph received a lot of love from his team after the game. It was an emotional locker room as they know their coach could be let go tomorrow.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 31, 2018
"I love Vance. VJ is one of my favorite people on this planet. I love that guy with all my heart."
Tight end Matt LaCosse also voiced respect for his former head coach.
“He always kept his head up and he always kept working,” the tight end said. “From here on out, he’ll always have my respect for that. It’s not an easy thing to do in this league. He’s a great coach. He’ll land on his feet, and he’ll be missed around here.”
Rookie receiver Courtland Sutton, who was thrust into a starting role after the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas, noted that everyone was “sad to see him go.”
“I appreciate V.J. Great coach,” he said. “I know that V.J., wherever he winds up landing, he’s going to be a great addition to whatever staff he goes to. He loves ball and he loves the guys that he coaches. I know we all appreciate how much he took care of us this year. The wins and losses record didn’t show what we wanted it to show, but he’s a guy who cares about us as players and as young men.”
Keenum, who knows as well as anyone how it feels to get cut or “fired,” pointed out (somewhat ironically) that as a production business, coaches and players are required to live up to expectations.
“You feel terrible ...V.J’s a great coach and an even better person. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and I said a lot about that last night,” Keenum added. “You hate seeing it, but it’s the NFL. It’s a production business and we need to win more games.”
While Joseph is far more popular in the locker room than in Broncos Stadium, he is leaving the players with a positive outlook for the next regime, ready to build on what they started.
“I have to build on my energy and the way I inspire others and just being in that realm of being a leader,” Miller said of getting into his role as a team leader, not just a star defensive player. “It’s always more and more and more and once you get the ‘C’ on your chest. It’s always more you can do and you’re a failure if you don’t, if you’re not lifting up the Lombardi trophy at the end of the year. As a leader, I felt that I took some great steps, and I just have to build on that next year.”
Parks said he and Andy Janovich were talking about goals for 2019 while on the sidelines.
“We said that we had to make sure everyone this offseason is doing everything necessary so that we can get to the playoffs this next year. That’s all it’s about now,” Parks said, noting he has never played in the playoffs, so he is “eager and angry.” “I guess that is why I was crying leaving the field. You feel like you put all that hard work in and it tanks every time. The good ones, they never quit. There might not be a lot of people in this locker room here next year. I might not be here – I don’t know. But, I am never going to quit. I am never going to quit playing the game. I am never going to quit fighting for my boys.”
Sutton and his fellow rookies are also making plans for the offseason rebuilding.
“We know that we don’t want to go through this again. We are going to do what we have to do to makes sure that we don’t have to go through this again,” he said, noting film study and strength training in the offseason - plus bringing the rookies in fast.
“We are going to get the young guys right, right away and let them know what the new culture is around here and what we are not going to allow moving forward,” Sutton added. “We will put our stamp on our brand and what we want it to be. We will let it be known to everyone around that this is the type of football the Broncos are going to be playing from now on. If you are not with it, you can bounce.”