John Elway made the 11th-hour decision on the final day of the 2017 regular season to retain rookie head coach Vance Joseph following a 5-11 debut campaign.
But after the Denver Broncos' 6-10 encore season in 2018, culminated by a 23-9 loss at home to the Los Angeles Chargers, Elway fired Joseph, setting out on his fourth head-coaching search in a decade as the team's general manager and president of football operations. The news was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who tweeted that the franchise's first back-to-back losing campaigns in 46 seasons played a big part in the decision.
Joseph, 46, was viewed as a fast riser when Elway tabbed him to replace Gary Kubiak, who retired following a two-year run that included a Super Bowl 50 triumph prior to missing the 2016 playoffs with a 9-7 mark. Joseph, a former NFL defensive back and longtime secondary coach, was a first-time head coach and had been a defensive coordinator for only one season — 2016 in Miami — prior to arriving in Denver.
Nowhere was Joseph's inexperience more evident than his in-game decision making, which seemed to worsen during his tenure.
For instance, only two weeks ago in Cleveland, with the Broncos trailing 17-13 late and facing fourth-and-1 at the Browns' 6-yard line, Joseph opted for a field-goal try despite having no remaining healthy corners and needing a touchdown to win. By the time Denver got the ball back, still trailing by a point, it was deep in Broncos territory with less than two minutes remaining.
One week earlier, the Broncos' three-game win streak and seemingly viable wild-card aspirations were snapped in San Francisco by the then-3-10 49ers and first-year QB Nick Mullens. And in their first game after trading Demaryius Thomas to Houston, coincidentally against the Texans, Joseph's Broncos were too passive late in a 19-17 defeat, prompting Thomas to tell NFL.com afterward, "that's what they do over there. I ain't a part of that no more. We like to win over here."
In fairness, Joseph's hands also regularly were tied by Elway's mismanagement of the QB position and micromanaging of the coaching staff. Case Keenum largely has flopped on his big free-agent deal to replace Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, with a 17-14 TD-INT ratio in Keenum's first season in Denver. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, whom Elway promoted after pushing out Mike McCoy last season, also has struggled.
But Joseph's calling card — defense, particularly the secondary — has devolved on his watch, going from fourth in scoring and yardage to 12th and 23rd, respectively. Again, Elway was the one who opted to disassemble the "No Fly Zone" by cutting T.J. Ward and trading Aqib Talib in the past two offseasons, respectively.
Joseph failed to maximize his personnel on a pass 'D' whose breakdowns have increased significantly. Former first-rounder Bradley Roby has disappointed as the full-time replacement for Talib. Joseph has coaxed very little mileage from DeMarcus Walker, the Broncos' second-rounder in 2017.
Ultimately, Joseph just didn't carry the clout in Denver that Elway, the former Hall of Fame quarterback, possessed. That perhaps best explains why this offseason's changes likely won't go above replacing the head coach and taking another stab at rectifying the QB mess. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Joseph resurface next season as a defensive coordinator, perhaps most likely in a return to Cincinnati.
Could Elway, who turned the franchise around by hiring retread John Fox and helped push it over the hump by replacing him with Gary Kubiak, be targeting another big name with previous head-coaching experience as Joseph's successor? It feels that way, and some of the more intriguing possibilities this season potentially are second- and third-timers.
But on the heels of arguably Elway's most promising rookie class, if not certainly on offense, since his first season, he owes it to the Broncos' fan base and next head coach to enlist more help in solving the QB quandary and let his next hand-picked head coach handle the coaching staff decisions.