ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Vance Joseph fully understands and appreciates the significance of his new job beyond the everyday football matters.
It’s just that he’s all about the football matters right now. Still, as a former University of Colorado player and assistant coach, he has spent enough time in and around the region to know how many people care about the Denver Broncos.
And Joseph's status as the first African-American to be the Broncos' head coach in the franchise's history is not something he simply brushes aside.
"I’m honored, I’m proud," Joseph said last week when he was formally introduced as the Broncos' 16th head coach. "Again, hopefully going forward, that part is not considered any longer. So as we go along in the future, it shouldn’t matter what color you are. If you can do the job, they should hire you. But I understand it, and I’m proud and humbled by it, and moving forward, I want to do a good job so the next guy can get his opportunity."
Denver's hiring of Joseph and Anthony Lynn, another former Broncos player and assistant coach who has been hired as the head coach for the Chargers, means more minority candidates were hired as first-time head coaches in the AFC West than were hired as first-time head coaches in the previous five years combined.
In those five years, Jets coach Todd Bowles was the only minority hired in the NFL as a first-time head coach.
John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works to promote diversity on the coaching, personnel and front-office staffs in the NFL, told ESPN’s Mike Sando: "The thing that was extremely gratifying is that there were no token interviews this year. Several of the guys had two and three interviews. We saw the process operate as it should."
Joseph had interviewed with the Broncos in 2015 for the head-coaching job, just before Gary Kubiak was hired. Kubiak then tried to bring Joseph to Denver as his defensive coordinator, but the Bengals would not allow Joseph to make that move at that time.
Joseph was one of three candidates to interview with the Broncos' decision-makers to replace Kubiak this time around -- Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub were the others. Joseph stayed in Denver the night following his interview and agreed to terms the next morning to be the team's new head coach. Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis has consistently said Joseph emerged as the team’s top candidate on all levels.
"No. 1, I think he understands his beliefs about what should happen, what makes a successful team coincide and line up exactly with what John [Elway’s] beliefs are," Ellis said this past week. "That connection is there, number one. No. 2, he’s got a wide net in terms of his skill set. In terms of his understanding of the game, the importance of all three phases of managing players, of the particulars in terms of everything from team travel to what kind of players you need in your system to health and how players feel when they get out of their automobiles, walk in the building and what’s important. He has kind of a big-picture understanding as well as an understanding of what details are important."
In 2003, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule, named for Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to make sure at least one minority candidate was interviewed for head-coaching jobs if a team didn’t promote a member of the current staff to be the team’s head coach. Joseph said he believed the rule was an important element in getting an interview, but that he believed "you are ready for the job when somebody hires you."
Joseph’s desire to be a head coach, however, predates the Rooney Rule by a few years, dating to 1999 when he was a graduate assistant at Colorado.
"I think as a G.A. in Boulder, I aspired to be the head coach of any program," Joseph said. "Obviously when you’re working in the business, you want to be at the top eventually, and that’s the head coach, in college or pros ... so I’m certainly happy the opportunity has arrived."