DENVER -- Gary Kubiak won a ring and left a void. He navigated a roller coaster of issues and injuries over two seasons to win 24 games and a Super Bowl.
He exits with a legacy of character, integrity and honesty. He also departs with talent in the cupboard. While working under championship-or-bust expectations remains challenging, the Broncos' boast the most attractive opening in the NFL.
They have a terrific defense which can win in the postseason. Like 90 percent of the teams, they need help on the offensive line, and could feature as many as three new starters next season depending how free agency and the draft unfold. But they went 9-7. They aren't far away. Who can lead them back to the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons?
General manager John Elway wants a young coach, straying from the path that led him to John Fox (Denver needed football rehab and he was a good fit to restore the team's reputation) and Kubiak, whose relationship with the organization and championship pedigree were the right tonic at the right time.
This search is different. The top candidates are Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Buffalo's Anthony Lynn, Detroit's Teryl Austin and Seattle's Darrell Bevell are intriguing names as well. According to a 9News report, the Broncos will interview Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub on Friday. But let's focus on Shahanan and Joseph.
Kyle Shanahan brings more than name recognition. He played receiver at local Cherry Creek High, and later at Duke and Texas. He became the NFL's youngest offensive coordinator at age 28 for Kubiak in Houston. He has excelled in a variety of places, including Houston with Matt Schaub, Washington with Robert Griffin III and Atlanta with Matt Ryan. Ryan is a strong MVP candidate this season as the Falcons lead the NFL in scoring at 33.5 points per game. Shanahan knows the Kubiak offense, so his transition would be seamless in that regard. What's more, he has revolutionized this offense, using the running backs and tight ends in a variety of creative ways. His experience suggests he's ready for the next step.
Would he want to follow in his father's footprint? Mike Shanahan is the most successful coach in Broncos' history. He left on difficult terms, so there might need to be some fence-mending to bring another Shanahan aboard. I fully expect if Kyle wants this job, he will make it clear he's his own man, that he's ready to run the show, not leaning on the help of his famous father. With the Falcons idle, he will interview with the Broncos on Saturday. He has three other interviews on Friday and Saturday with the Rams, Jaguars and 49ers.
I covered Vance Joseph as a quarterback at the University of Colorado in the early 1990s. He never became the man on a roster with Kordell Stewart and Koy Detmer. But when he played he was a leader of men. Joseph is a bright football mind. His career path illustrates as much.
He played quarterback in college, and switched to defensive back in the NFL, starting six career games in stops with the Jets and Colts. He has crossed the country refining his coaching skills from college (Wyoming, Colorado, Bowling Green) to the pros (San Francisco, Houston, Cincinnati, Miami). Joseph worked under Kubiak with the Texans. Talk to those who have played under Joseph, and they say he understands the micro and macro elements of dealing with players and management. His profile began to rise with his work with defensive backs in Houston and Cincinnati.
The Broncos interviewed Joseph for their head coaching job two years ago before hiring Kubiak. He impressed Elway enough to be offered Denver's defensive coordinator's job, but Cincinnati blocked the move. Joseph played at CU with Broncos executive Matt Russell, who is part of the interview process. Joseph brings energy and a rare skill set of coaching through a quarterback's eyes with a defensive background. To land the job, he will likely need to have the right offensive coordinator in my mind, preferably one with experience.
With the Dolphins playing the Steelers this week, the earliest the Broncos can interview Joseph is after the game. Joseph, like Shanahan, is not just the hot name. His experience has prepared him for the next step, and his past interview with the Broncos could give him a slight leg up.