DENVER — Vance Joseph failed as a coach of the Broncos. But could he fit better as the team's defensive coordinator?
Fired after the 2018 season, Joseph rejuvenated his career as the Arizona Cardinals defensive boss and has been released from his contract to interview with Denver on Friday. Joseph, 50, is also expected to talk to the Eagles about their coordinator vacancy after the Cardinals hired Jonathan Gannon.
Joseph is the latest name to surface in Sean Payton's search for the leader of his first Denver defense. Rex Ryan, who last coached in the NFL in 2016, is considered the favorite for the post, but as discussions continue, it speaks to the fluid nature of the decision. Seattle's Sean Desai and former New Orleans defensive coordinator Kris Richard have interviewed, and after talks with Ejiro Evero failed to produce a fit, he was freed to pursue other opportunities and quickly landed in Carolina, where he has hired two Broncos assistants from last season.
Richard worked one season with Payton with the Saints, and could land a spot on the staff, even if not the coordinator.
Joseph, a former University of Colorado quarterback and NFL defensive back, was set up to fail in Denver as a head coach, not given final say on his coaching staff and equipped with an aging roster and a battery of failed draft picks. However, his inexperience also showed in personnel decisions, replay challenges and the team's collapse in his final season — a four-game skid after the team crawled back into playoff contention with a 6-6 record. He finished with an 11-21 record before Vic Fangio replaced him.
In four years in Arizona, Joseph's defense experienced severe highs and lows. In 2021, the Cardinals reached the playoffs and Joseph's group tied for 10th in points allowed with 366. Last season, Arizona bottomed out after quarterback Kyler Murray tore his ACL, leading to the firing of the general manager and head coach. Arizona's defense was gashed for 449 points, ahead of only the Chicago Bears (463).
There are very few players remaining from Joseph's previous stint in Denver. The list includes star safety Justin Simmons, standout inside linebacker Josey Jewell and kicker Brandon McManus. Joseph's defenses played well in Denver, but his run was sabotaged by an underwhelming offense that featured a carousel of quarterbacks.
Leading up to Arizona's loss to Denver last season, Joseph did not harbor a grudge.
“I’m over it. It was never a sore spot. That’s a great opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL. It didn’t work out, but I wasn’t the first guy and I won’t be the last. There were never any ill feelings. It was just a job. It didn’t get done and you move on," Joseph said.
"I’m assuming we would have won some games (if they had a franchise quarterback) because defensively, it was right. It was right. That’s been stated numerous times, but that wasn’t the case. It was a fast two years in Denver. I can’t say it wasn’t warranted. I mean, we didn’t win. They wanted change and I was the guy to change. That’s part of being the head coach.”
Payton has interviewed multiple candidates for the special teams coordinator's job, including some NFC assistants. Thursday, Mike Westhoff tweeted that he will talk to Payton, and multiple industry sources believe he's the favorite. Westhoff worked for Payton in New Orleans in 2017 and 2018, and Payton has already hired three staffers with ties to New Orleans.