When Gary Kubiak abruptly retired after the Denver Broncos’ season finale two weeks ago, it raised plenty of questions about the direction of a franchise less than one year removed from a Super Bowl win. Would the upheaval surrounding the installation of a new coach and his staff send Denver spiraling back into mediocrity? Or would the next guy preserve the culture and schemes that helped make the Broncos one of the league’s best teams over the last five years?
Well, general manager John Elway’s decision to hire Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph on Wednesday doesn’t do much to provide many answers. It just presents more questions.
First, a lot of Broncos fans may ask a simple question: Who the hell is Vance Joseph? Although Denver interviewed him for the head coach job back in 2015, the 44-year-old is still inexperienced. After spending 11 years as a defensive backs coach for the 49ers (2005–10), Texans (2011–13), and Bengals (2014–15), he’s quickly risen to the head coach level after just one season as Miami’s defensive coordinator. His defense didn’t exactly light the world on fire, either: It finished 18th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed, and it was most recently seen getting blown out by the Steelers in the wild-card round. But Joseph did help turn the Dolphins back into a playoff team for the first time since 2008, and he managed to put together a serviceable group despite a multitude of injuries.
Schemewise it could be a fit. Joseph coached under Denver’s current DC, Wade Phillips, in Houston for three seasons, so he should provide some continuity to an elite defense that doesn’t need any changing. Except now there are rumors surrounding Phillips — some say he’s being pushed out, others say he’s staying — so any presumed philosophical stability is mostly just speculative right now.
Denver could have headed down a clearer path of succession. It could’ve waited to hire Kyle Shanahan, whom the Broncos interviewed a few days ago and who’s the mastermind behind the world-shattering Atlanta Falcons offense. He could’ve worked his magic on a group that ranked 28th in DVOA, and Phillips could’ve continued to helm the defense that ranked first. Plus, Shanahan is the son of and runs roughly the same scheme as Mike Shanahan, who was Denver’s head coach when Elway led them to back-to-back Super Bowls. His offensive coordinator those years? Kubiak.
Instead, Elway opted to take things in another direction. With Joseph locked in, we now know who’s going to be leading the Broncos through their next chapter. But we still don’t have a good sense of what it’ll say.