ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos believe they got “the perfect fit" in Vance Joseph.
That’s what John Elway, the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager, called Joseph this past week when he was introduced as the franchise’s 16th head coach.
“You’ll see the type of man that he is and what he believes in," Elway said Thursday. “The leadership qualities that he has are tremendous, and we’ll carry on what started with John Fox, went to Gary Kubiak, and he’ll carry that on. That’s why I believe that he’s the perfect fit for us. He knows our weaknesses and he knows our strengths."
Still, when Elway and team president/CEO Joe Ellis decided Joseph was the pick, it made this coaching search -- the third of Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ chief football decision maker -- different than the first two. In the first two, Elway wanted experience. He said he was willing to be open-minded, but in the end, someone who had already been a head coach in the league would be high on the wish list.
In 2011, he hired John Fox, who had coached the Carolina Panthers. In 2015, Elway hired Gary Kubiak. Besides being a former teammate and roommate of Elway’s as a Broncos player, Kubiak had coached the Houston Texans.
With Joseph, the Broncos have turned back the clock a bit -- back to before Elway returned to the team as an executive, back to when they believed a coach making the jump from coordinator to first-time head coach was the right fit to replace Mike Shanahan.
That was when Josh McDaniels, not so far removed from the Patriots’ undefeated regular season, was brought in as the young, bright coach to push the Broncos to the next level. His tenure lasted 28 games; he was fired 12 games into the 2010 season with the Broncos headed for a 4-12 finish, with a wafer-thin roster and a Spygate scandal in tow. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Elway in the wake of all that.
The Broncos believe these are different times with far different circumstances. The team has a distinct infrastructure, with Elway and the personnel department and the coaching staff. The Broncos have had six consecutive winning seasons, with five AFC West titles and two Super Bowl trips in those six years -- including, of course, the victory last year in Super Bowl 50.
And Joseph believes that puts him ahead of many of his peers.
“For the first-time head coach to have a chance to be with a team like the Denver Broncos, that’s not broken, that’s rare," Joseph said. “Usually you have the opportunity of a rebuild. It’s like when Mike Tomlin took over Pittsburgh. When Mike took over, they were a year out from winning the big game."
Joseph interviewed to be the Broncos coach after the 2014 season, and at the time, he hadn't even been a coordinator yet. He called plays for the first time in 2016 as the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator. Elway thought enough of Joseph’s potential to interview him in 2015, when he was the Bengals secondary coach.
After the Broncos hired Kubiak, Elway and Kubiak tried to bring Joseph in as the defensive coordinator, but the Bengals wouldn’t allow him to make that move.
“I think you’re ready when they give you the job," Joseph said of his readiness. “I won’t know everything about being a head coach, but obviously I’ll learn."
Joseph said working for coaches like Mike Nolan, Marvin Lewis, Adam Gase and Kubiak has given him a template to work from as he makes his way with the Broncos.
“I’ll say this about experience -- experience isn’t equal to knowledge," Joseph said. “You can have poor experiences; that won’t give you great knowledge of being a head coach. I’ve had great experiences around great head coaches, winning guys. For me, the experience part is really small. It’s problem solving; it’s being in the right experiences that lead to knowledge. You can be a guy who’s coached 50 years -- if you’ve been in terrible experiences, that doesn’t make you knowledgeable."
Elway believes Joseph’s year as a coordinator added to the list of experiences. In his research, Elway found that Joseph was a “sounding board for the head guy" on whatever staff he was part of. Elway has also had multiple discussions with Kubiak about Joseph, since Joseph was on Kubiak’s staff with the Texans.
“You look at experience, but you look at the person. You believe that they can grow and they can grow fast," Elway said. “I think that’s what we have with Vance. He’s going to grow on the run. You have to start somewhere. ... He’s been in the arena, and now he is the guy. I think the past and having been in that arena will help him experience-wise. You have to believe in people. At some point in time, you’d love to have tremendous experience with everybody, but I just really think that Vance is ready to go. With the experience that he’s been in the past, he’ll grow very fast in this position."