CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Vance Joseph faces an uncertain future entering Sunday's season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. Armed with a four-year contract, Joseph has not been told he will return. Until he receives word, the possibility of change exists.
General manager John Elway hired Joseph after Gary Kubiak stepped away following last season's final game. Kubiak returned in a scouting role this season, and the team is expected to expand his position to include front office responsibilities. A fresh set of eyes in player evaluation can only help, and add a reinforcement to a staff that is among the NFL's smallest. Kubiak is not looking to return to coaching. Still, the Broncos are, at the very least, considering a coaching change following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Multiple NFL sources remained unsure of Joseph's fate leading up to kickoff, and Elway has a reputation for being unpredictable. The outcome of Sunday's game would not be the determining factor as much as the potential replacement. Is there someone out there who makes sense as a longer term solution (I have previously mentioned adding Chuck Pagano as a veteran assistant, and he remains the type of experienced name to file away).
The 5-10 record has not placed Joseph on the hot seat as much the path to a second straight playoff absence. Of the Broncos' 10 losses, eight have come by double digits. After a 3-1 start, The Broncos dropped eight straight games, matching the team's longest losing streak since 1967. Denver won only one road game -- the third worst mark -- and was outscored 223-117. The Broncos also showed a lack of discipline with penalties and were submarined by horrific special teams play overall, and by punt returner Isaiah McKenze (six muffed punts) specifically.
The argument for keeping Joseph centers on development and consistency, avoiding the fourth head coach in five seasons. In fairness, it was time to move on from John Fox, and Kubiak would still be the head coach if not for health issues that forced him to step down. It stands to reason Joseph would improve in his second season, which, regardless if he's back, will feature multiple staff changes.
If Joseph returns, he must do a better job of coaching his coaches. He gave his assistants freedom to do their jobs, but needed to intervene more quickly when things went sideways. Joseph and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy were not on the same page philosophically, with McCoy acting like he was a head coach and running a three-wide, pass-heavy scheme that did not fit the team's personnel. After the Eagles routed the Broncos in Brock Osweiler's starting debut -- which featured more of the same pass protection issues and quarterback turnovers -- Joseph wanted to fire McCoy, but relented. He lost his patience after the Bengals home loss, a team Joseph knew well from his time in Cincinnati and, thus, should have been more involved in the offensive game plan. Giving assistants room to work is admirable, but as the top boss Joseph needs to be more assertive.
The easiest explanation for keeping Joseph is the quarterback position he inherited. He had nothing to do with the roster of Trevor Siemian, Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Siemian's regression -- he was functional in Kubiak's offense -- led to the team's dramatic nosedive. The Broncos' top offseason priority remains finding a starter. The Broncos will cast a wide net, eyeing potential free agents Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees and the Minnesota stable, while scouting draft picks Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. How much better would Joseph be with certainty at the league's most important position? That's a fair question. It's also fair to wonder if the team wants to land a high-profile agent if a higher profile coach is needed.
Why move on? It would simply be Elway becoming convinced it won't get any better and that a more seasoned coach makes more sense. There will be staff changes, with special teams coordinator Brock Olivo among those on shaky ground. And Elway has right to wonder why young players did not get better this seaso. Were they not good enough, or not being coached in a way that allowed them to progress? If the answer is the latter it reflects poorly on Joseph.
Players remained uncertain of Joseph's future leading up to kickoff. Several offered support of him this week, with Von Miller calling him one of his "favorite coaches," and linebacker Brandon Marshall saying, "He's a first-year coach. Everything is not his fault. It was a tough season. The turnover (margin). ... Minus 16 (which ranks 31st in the NFL), there's no way you can have a winning season that way. There's been some different things out of his control. I definitely think he deserves another chance."