Why so defensive, John Elway?

John Elway hires Vance Joseph
Denver Post
BY JOHN ROHDE

Jan. 14, 2017

Time will tell if Denver Broncos general manager John Elway chose wisely in selecting Vance Joseph as the team’s new head coach. Given his wondrous history with the franchise – which includes six Super Bowls, three Vince Lombardi Trophies, a Hall-of-Fame selection, nine Pro Bowls and a collection of local car dealerships – more success likely awaits Denver’s longtime savior.

When hiring a coach, a team can either play to its strength or its weakness. Elway played to his team’s strength, which is why he chose Joseph, a defensive assistant coach for 12 NFL seasons and fresh off his one-year stint as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

Defense is why Denver claimed Super Bowl 50 over the 17-1 Carolina Panthers last season. Let’s face it, without that defense, the Broncos’ record this season would have been somewhere around 4-12 rather than 9-7.

The 44-year-old Joseph has Colorado ties, having played quarterback and running back for CU in Boulder (1991-94). He moved to cornerback and made it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, playing one season each for the New York Jets (1995) and Indianapolis Colts (1996). Joseph later returned to CU as a graduate assistant (1999-2001) and defensive backs coach (2002-03).

Former Buffs coach Bill McCartney enthusiastically endorsed Elway’s decision to hire Joseph, telling Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla, “Wow! … It’s awesome. People are going to love this guy. Vance Joseph is a leader of men.”

 

John Elway and Vance Johnson

 

However, perhaps Elway would have been better served hiring another kid who has local ties.

Kyle Shanahan is the son of longtime Denver coach Mike Shanahan, a staff member for 20 seasons, including the last 14 as head coach (1995-2008). Shanahan directed the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997-98, which came during Elway’s final two seasons. When Elway retired, Shanahan’s otherwise impressive stint as head coach eventually ended with a three-year thud – a 24-24 overall record while missing the playoffs all three seasons. Following Elway’s retirement, it took seven seasons for the Broncos to win another postseason game.

Kyle was just 4 years old when his father began his initial stint with the Broncos as offensive coordinator (1984-87) and offensive assistant (1990-91). The kid who used to roam around his father’s office eventually played wide receiver at Cherry Creek High School, initially signed with Duke, but transferred to the University of Texas as a redshirt freshman.

After UT, Kyle was as a graduate assistant for one season at UCLA, then jumped to the NFL at age 24 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff. At age 28, Kyle became offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans (2008-09), rejoined his father as OC for the Washington Redskins (2010-13), served as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2014), then joined the Atlanta Falcons (2015-present), where he directed the NFL’s highest-scoring offense (33.8 ppg) this season.

Denver already is well-versed on defense. What’s required is a substantial about-face on offense. To lasso the sire of Mike Shanahan sounded so darn symmetrical for this dysfunctional herd of Broncos.

Alas, with Elway’s decision, Denver seems destined to remain asymmetrical with its offense and defense, at least for a while.

Had Elway opted for Kyle Shanahan, the Broncos’ defense could have continued to carry the burden until their offense progressed under its new regime, a time span that might hinge on the potential acquisition of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo this offseason.

In a Denver Post on-line survey posted during the coaching search, 80.28 percent voted that Shanahan would make the best hire, followed by Joseph at 14.35 percent and Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub at 5.37 percent.

Those results flipped immediately after Elway hired Joseph as 32.25 percent voted they were “somewhat optimistic,” while 28.22 percent voted for both “extremely optimistic” and the non-committal “Meh, I’ll wait and see.” Only 11.31 percent were either “somewhat pessimistic” or “extremely pessimistic.”

This significant shift in the polls implies voters suddenly have become believers in Joseph. What it actually reflects is voters still believe in John Elway, which has been the case since he rode into town as the No. 1 overall pick and the league’s Golden Boy in 1983.

Because with the Broncos, there’s no other way than Elway.

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