CINCINNATI — If the Broncos leave Ohio with a victory over the hapless Bungals, Vance Joseph’s career record as coach in Denver will improve to 11-17, the same record owned by Josh McDaniels when he was run out of town back in 2010.
Much to the chagrin of many folks in Broncos Country, however, it appears the reports of Joseph’s inevitable demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I would suggest Denver has won consecutive games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers in spite of Joseph more so than brilliant coaching. But should the Broncos get on big roll in December, record seven straight victories and crash the playoffs with a 10-6 record, there will be absolutely no reasonable grounds for Joseph’s dismissal.
V.J. is nothing if not a survivor.
In the risky business of NFL coaching, the stubborn refusal to panic is an essential trait. Perhaps Joseph learned a little something about how to keep on trucking through all kinds of trouble from Marvin Lewis, the Bengals coach who has somehow survived 16 seasons in Cincinnati without ever winning a playoff game.
“He never changed and never wavered, even in hard times,” said Joseph, who worked for Lewis as a defensive assistant on the Cincy staff from 2014-15.
“My first year with Marvin, we were having an OK year and we had to win three road games in a row to make the playoffs … We won 10 games, but never changed his message. He never wavered as far as what it took to win games with his staff. He’s the same guy every day, so the work environment didn’t change. It was obviously a competitive and urgent environment, but as we had a couple bad weeks, it was the same message. He stuck with it. He kind of ignored the noise. He didn’t react to the outside noise; he never does. Absolutely, he hears it, but for 16 years, he totally ignores it. He works, his staff works, his players work and he is as steady as they come.”
What undoubtedly hastened McDaniels’ departure from Denver prior to completion of his second season was the embarrassment of league investigation and fines for videotaping a San Francisco walk-through practice, when both teams played in London. But what doomed McDaniels to failure was his shaky relationship with players, who never knew what to expect from their young coach’s personality swings or inconsistent management style from one day to the next.
What has saved Joseph to this point is the Broncos have never quit on him, because players trust him to have their backs, in good times and bad.
How much can the fortunes of a coach change in the span of 12 months?
On the final weekend of November 2017, the Broncos traveled to Oakland. Not to bring back bad memories, but how could anybody in Colorado forget?
It was the crying game by quarterback Paxton Lynch, when the former first-round draft choice became officially and irrevocably a bust. How could things have possibly gone worse? Well, Denver not only was beaten by the hated Raiders, it was the first time the Broncos had lost seven straight games in 50 years.
Joseph was done as coach. After losing in Oakland, everyone in Broncos Country, even a dolt like me, knew Joseph was gone. All that remained was the formality of filling out the pink slip.
But I was wrong. General manager John Elway decided to give Joseph a mulligan. And Joseph returned for 2018.
With a 5-6 record, Joseph insists: “We’ve done nothing up to this point, in my opinion. We don’t win Sunday, we’re 5-7. That’s ugly, right?”
He’s 100 percent correct. But it’s also just being honest to note Kyle Shanahan, the coach many fans in Colorado wanted to be hired instead of Joseph, is dealing with all the growing pains and frustration of an 8-19 record during his second season in charge of the San Francisco 49ers.
The biggest challenge for the Broncos to make the playoffs now is not so much the tomato cans begging to be knocked over on their December schedule, but how hard it is for any team to win seven straight times in the NFL. The math problem might be greater than the football challenge.
What does Joseph need to do to earn a third season on the Denver sideline?
I say it should be playoffs or bust.
Denver has higher football standards than Cincinnati. The Broncos are not the Bungals.