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Denver Broncos Fire Coach Vance Joseph

December 31, 2018
Head coach Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos during the first quarter against the Houston Texans. The Denver Broncos hosted the Houston Texans at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018.

Less than two years after beginning his “dream job” as the Broncos’ coach, Vance Joseph ’s tenure ended Monday morning when he was fired by general manager John Elway following a 6-10 season.

Joseph finishes with a 11-21 record and his winning percentage of .343 is second-worst in Broncos history.

In a statement released by the team, Elway said: “I spoke with Vance this morning and thanked him for all of his hard work as our head coach. Although we decided to make this change, I believe Vance is a good football coach who has a bright future in this league. Vance made a lot of strides and deserves credit for how hard and competitively the team played this season. There’s always going to be a high standard here—The bottom line is we need to win more football games. We’re excited about the foundation that’s being built and look forward to putting in the work to get the Broncos back on the winning track.”

Joseph’s era is defined by crippling losing streaks - eight games last year and skids of four games twice this season.

President/CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement: “Vance put his heart into coaching this team, and I appreciate the way he represented the Broncos with such professionalism. … While we’ve made progress, we still have a lot more work to do and need to get better in all areas. In talking with John, I believe we’re headed in the right direction and am confident in him leading our coaching search. John has my full support in making whatever changes are necessary to improve our team.”

Elway will be tasked with hiring a fourth head coach since joining the Broncos’ front office in 2011. If he follows the template that worked with John Fox and Gary Kubiak , Elway will be searching for candidates that have previous NFL head-coaching experience. But he will have competition: Green Bay and Cleveland already have openings after making mid-season firings and other jobs are expected to open soon. Denver’s next head coach will be its fourth in six years.

Earlier this season, as Joseph’s coaching seat began to heat up, the Broncos won three consecutive games to even their record at 6-6 and revive faint playoff hopes, but subsequently lost their final four games. To begin the skid, they delivered a first-half no-show Dec. 9 at San Francisco, committing eight defensive penalties while falling behind 20-0 in an eventual 20-14 loss.

The Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention a week later with a loss to the Browns when Joseph - after talking about playing to win and poking quarterback Case Keenum for being too conservative - opted for a field goal (to make it 17-16) instead of going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Browns’ 6 with less than five minutes remaining. Once the field goal was made, fans at Mile High booed the decision.

The Broncos this year rarely started fast, had offensive line tumult because of injuries, lost No. 1 receiver Emmanuel Sanders (torn Achilles) and top cornerback Chris Harris (broken leg) in early December and was one of the league’s most penalized teams.

Elway opted to keep Joseph after a 5-11 season a year ago, but a 2-0 start this season was erased by another stretch of bad football (six losses in seven games) in which Keenum was inconsistent, the rush defense fell to last in the NFL at one point, the defense allowed 50 more passing yards per game than a year ago and penalties at inopportune times halted offensive drives and extended opponent’s possessions.

Joseph was hired by the Broncos on Jan. 11, 2017, following his only year as an NFL defensive coordinator, at Miami.

He played for the University of Colorado from 1990 to 1995, primarily as a quarterback, and then returned to the school as an assistant coach in 1999 under Gary Barnett after a brief stint as a player in the NFL. But Joseph’s career at CU ended in 2004 under a cloud of suspicion, as he was suspended and then left the team for a position with Bowling Green.

Shortly after he was hired, the Daily Camera reported Joseph was accused of sexually assaulting two female trainers in Boulder in 2003. A state task force investigated the claims, but no charges were ever filed.

The Broncos have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, but how attractive is their coaching job?

Elway isn’t going anywhere so a coach who desires a major say in personnel decisions could be expected to balk. Additionally, the uncertain ownership situation - president/CEO Joe Ellis heads a three-person trust that has run the team since Pat Bowlen stepped away in 2014 due to Alzheimer’s - could give candidates significant pause. The trustees were sued in late October by Bill Bowlen, Pat’s brother, who wants them removed from power.

The Broncos did not cast a wide net two years ago when hiring Joseph, interviewing only two other candidates (then-Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub). Shanahan was hired by San Francisco. Toub could re-emerge as a candidate.

Elway and Co. will have to navigate through the NFL rules during the playoffs. Coaches whose teams did not make the postseason are free to interview once the Broncos file a request with the league office. But assistants on playoff teams, such as Toub and Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio - if they are on Elway’s radar - have specific windows to interview.

The issue for Elway: Hire somebody with head-coaching experience who is better-equipped to handle the Broncos’ rebuild and avoid the kind of erratic play that plagued Joseph’s tenure? Or, do they try and go young and hire a coach who can revamp the offense?

The downside for the Broncos is they were spectators the last several offseasons when several offensive coaches were hired to run teams, coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams), Matt Nagy (Chicago), Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers) and Pat Shurmur (New York Giants). The depth chart of current offensive coordinators is shallow in experience.

During his introductory news conference, Joseph said the Broncos were “a football team that’s not broken. It’s a great job.”

The reality surfaced in season one: The Broncos were a broken team, turning Joseph’s dream job into a bigger challenge than anticipated.

A glance at Vance Joseph’s time with the Broncos

Year 1: Three quarterbacks started games and none played well; none were on the 2018 opening-day roster. … Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired midseason. … The Broncos’ eight-game losing streak was their longest in 50 years. … On the road, the team was not competitive, going 1-7 and losing six games by double-digits.

Year 2 (preseason): A stable of new coaches were either promoted or hired. … Veteran Case Keenum was signed to stabilize the quarterback position. … Linebacker/defensive end Bradley Chubb fell into the Broncos’ hands at No. 5 overall in the draft. … The draft produced running back Royce Freeman and receiver Courtland Sutton . … Undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay made the team.

Year 2 (regular season): The Broncos started 2-0 with fourth-quarter comebacks at home against Seattle and Oakland. … But then, chaos. Denver committed 13 penalties for 120 yards in a loss at Baltimore, squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose at home to Kansas City, gave up 323 yards rushing in a 34-16 loss at the New York Jets and allowed 270 yards rushing in a home loss to the Rams. … Back-up quarterback Chad Kelly was released following his late-night arrest in October. … The Broncos moved to 3-4 with a win over Arizona but then lost to Kansas City and Houston. … Receiver Demaryius Thomas was traded to the Texans. … Joseph resisted making staff and/or major lineup changes as the losing continued. … Offensive starters Matt Paradis (center), Ron Leary (left guard), Jeff Heuerman / Jake Butt (tight ends), Max Garcia (reserve-turned-starting left guard) and Emmanuel Sanders (receiver) sustained season-ending injuries. … Top cornerback Chris Harris (broken leg) missed the final four games.

Daily Camera staff writer Mitchell Byars contributed to this report.

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