DENVER -- Of the six NFL head coaches hired before the 2017 season, only one took over a winning team.
And only one produced a team that was worse than the year before.
Vance Joseph was the only one.
Yet, Joseph has survived, barely.
After much vacillation (and head-scratching and soul-searching), John Elway, the master of all he sees of the Broncos at Dove Valley, finally decided to bring back Joseph for a second season.
Instead, six assistants were fired, joining Mike McCoy, who already was dumped on Nov. 20. A third of the staff is gone.
Joseph admitted in the season-summary media conference on Tuesday that he made mistakes as a rookie head coach, and Elway acknowledged that he could have given Joseph more help in the disastrous year that ended with the team’s 11th loss.
The Broncos finished with their worst record since the Josh McDaniels Debacle, and even Coach McKid didn’t lose 11 games in 2010. He was fired before season’s end and replaced by interim coach Eric Studesville, the running backs coach.
Joseph – with Elway’s permission, or upon his orders – fired Studesville, the longest-tenured coach on the Broncos’ staff, and in his first season as assistant head coach. Wide receivers Tyke Tolbert, who had been in Denver since 2011, also was kicked out.
Brock Olivo, who never should have been hired in the first place, FINALLY was fired – but only after Joseph kept calling him an outstanding special teams coach throughout the season, although the Broncos proved they had the worst special teams in the entire league. And the statistics, and continued presence of Isaiah McKenzie on the field and the roster, verified that dubious achievement.
Former Broncos’ lineman Jeff Davidson, who once protected Elway’s backside, was not protected by Elway and Joseph. Davidson was thrown to the curb like the offensive line coaches that preceded it.
Alex Gibbs is not coming back. The greatest offensive line coach in the history of the franchise had enough of the Broncos years ago. Johnnie Lynn, we hardly knew ye or knew what you did. And outside linebackers coach Fred Pagac, who was on the Super Bowl championship staff, was unceremoniously bounced after three seasons here and 17 years in the NFL as an assistant, and 22 years before that with Ohio State.
Bill Musgrave, promoted from quarterbacks coach when McCoy was fired, retains his coordinator’s job, despite failing to produce anything with three quarterbacks. And Joe Woods stays as the defensive coordinator although he was a considerable dropoff from Wade Phillips, who will be back in the playoffs with the Rams.
The rest of the assistants sighed, although they could have been gone, too.
Did Geep “Beep Beep” Chryst really do anything with the tight ends, who were no factor in the offense in ’17?
Nevertheless, the Joseph decision is the most mysterious. He assumed control of a team that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and missed by a game being in the playoffs the sixth straight season in 2016. Even he said in his inaugural meeting with the press, in which he seemed uncomfortable and uncertain, that he got the most attractive job of the six new head coaches. He said the Broncos were “retooling,” not “rebuilding.”
The Broncos were a negative four (9-7 to 5-11) from 2016 to 2017.
Compare to the other five:
Sean McVay, Rams, plus seven, 4-12 to 11-5. And he hired the Broncos’ defensive coordinator from ’16.
Doug Marrone, Jaguars, plus seven, 3-13 to 10-6. And he hired the Broncos’ special teams coordinator from ’16.
Anthony Lynn, Chargers, plus four, 5-11 to 9-7. And he was turned down by the Broncos, a team he had played for.
Sean McDermott, Bills, plus two, 7-9 to 9-7. And he hired the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from ’16.
Kyle Shanahan, 49ers, plus three, 2-14 to 5-11. He also was turned down by the Broncos, a team his dad coached to two Super Bowl victories.
McVay, who will be the NFL coach of the year, and Marrone won their divisions. The Bills slipped into the playoffs, and the Chargers, following an awful start, weren’t eliminated from the postseason until the last week of the season.
Shanahan won his last four games.
Joseph’s team lost eight consecutive games and defeated only two teams that ended up with winning records. The Broncos were last in the division and lost four of six games to AFC West opponents.
Shanahan should have been the choice.
Joseph is very fortunate he will return for a second, and probably, last season.