ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Having just completed their first back-to-back losing seasons since the early 1970s, the Denver Broncos fired Vance Joseph on Monday, a day after the team finished 6-10.
Joseph, who still has two years remaining on the four-year deal he signed in 2017, lasted just 32 games with the team. The Broncos now are on the hunt for the fourth head coach in John Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ top football executive.
“I spoke with Vance this morning and thanked him for all of his hard work as our head coach,” said Elway via statement. “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 was on his way to the team facility Monday morning, where he met with team officials to discuss the future.
“I want to be the head coach of this team,” Joseph told ESPN’s Josina Anderson earlier Monday. “I would like to get the third year. I think two years is just too short to judge a coach and a team.”
It was a bumpy ride for Joseph, who both played and coached at the University of Colorado before he began his NFL coaching career. The Broncos finished 5-11 in his first year and missed the playoffs this season. Joseph faced an almost constant wave of criticism for the team’s offense and its quarterback play.
It was the first time the Broncos have finished consecutive seasons with a losing record since 1971-1972. John Fox coached the first four seasons during Elway’s time as GM, and Gary Kubiak handled two seasons before stepping down due to health concerns — including the Super Bowl 50 win — to go with Joseph’s two seasons.
When he was hired, Joseph called the opportunity “a dream job” and said the Broncos “have an unbelievable winning tradition … but what make this even more special is it’s a place ready to win. This is not a rebuilding situation — it is a reboot.”
And with a nod to the future, Joseph said on his first day on the job that “the standards around here won’t change — those are to win championships.”
The Broncos were in position to win at least three of those games before their own mistakes and decision-making did them in, including letting a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away against the Chiefs in Denver and missing a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the loss to the Texans.
Overall, the Broncos consistently struggled with penalties, usually at key moments in their games, as well as what Harris called “high school mess-ups” on the field. Joseph’s teams also simply did not win on the road, with just four victories away from Denver in his two seasons. The Broncos also stumbled after quality starts in both years, having opened the 2017 season at 3-1 before an eight-game losing streak and they opened this past season at 2-0 before a four-game losing streak.
But Joseph also was the victim of the roster, at least sometimes, especially the continued search for a long-term answer at quarterback. The Broncos’ 2017 draft class, in particular, had almost no impact given five of the eight players drafted are no longer on the current roster and a sixth player — tight end Jake Butt — spent most of his second consecutive season on injured reserve because of knee injuries.
Left tackle Garett Bolles is the only current starter from the class of ’17 and he has struggled mightily at times, especially with penalties, as he’s tried to learn on the job. Bolles had a league-leading 10 holding penalties in ’17 to go with seven holding penalties in the team’s first eight games this past season.
The miss on quarterback Paxton Lynch, a player Elway traded up in the first round to select in the 2016 draft, was a significant one. It also put the Broncos in a search for a quarterback that resulted in three different quarterbacks starting games in 2017 to go with Case Keenum‘s signing last March.
Lynch isn’t even a prospect for the team given he was released just before the start of the regular season and remained unsigned by any team in the league this past season. Lynch was unable to win the starting job in either the 2016 or 2017 training camps, nor was he able to offer enough optimism for the team to try him as the full-time starter and let him work through any issues.
Lynch lost the backup job to Chad Kelly this past summer, though Kelly was released in October after an arrest after a team Halloween party. It means none of the five quarterbacks the Broncos selected in the draft during Elway’s tenure is on the roster or practice squad.
The quarterback carousel swallowed up Joseph and has seen four different players start over the last 32 games. Elway also traded the team’s longest-tenured player in October when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was shipped to the Texans. After the trade Thomas publicly questioned the team’s trustworthiness and the coaching staff’s willingness to listen to players.
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