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Vance Joseph’s hire shows Broncos will continue to be defense-first team

Joseph, who reportedly signed a four-year deal, has never been a head coach before, but he has years of experience with NFL defenses.

Miami Dolphins team site

Less than a week after the Dolphins were ousted from the playoffs, the Denver Broncos have signed Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as their new head coach. It's reportedly a four-year deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Gary Kubiak, who had coached the Broncos for the past two seasons, decided to retire earlier this month.

The 44-year-old Joseph has fairly deep ties to the Denver area, having played football for the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder alongside current Broncos executive Matt Russell. Joseph returned to his alma mater as a defensive backs coach between 2003-04 before embarking on an NFL coaching career that’s lasted well over a decade. He becomes Denver's first-ever full-time African-American head coach.

"He brings a leadership quality that you really love about him," said Miami head coach Adam Gase. "He has such a great personality and such a strong personality -- that alpha-type personality where he demands a lot from players and they give him everything he has."

The Broncos’ new head coach also has ties to the old head coach. Joseph worked under Kubiak as the Houston Texans’ defensive backs coach from 2011-13. During his time there, the Texans ranked third-best in the league in passing yards allowed per game, and in 2012 set a franchise record for pick-sixes. The Texans’ defensive coordinator at the time was Wade Phillips, who has been in charge of the Broncos’ top-flight defense the last two years.

Kubiak had high praise for his replacement.

"Vance has been in preparation for this opportunity for many years. He is a leader of men who gets the most out his players," Kubiak said. "I am so proud of him. His future and the future of the Denver Broncos is very bright."

Joseph certainly had more than enough selling points in his only season with the Dolphins. Transitioning from a defensive backs coach, he made one of the NFL’s worst defenses at creating turnovers into one of the best (16 takeaways in 2015, 25 in 2016). Early in the season, Miami struggled with limiting big plays, but seemed to correct itself by the end of the year, establishing one of the league's tougher defensive lines.

It all culminated in a 10-6 record for the Dolphins and their first playoff berth since 2008.

"His leadership qualities will make him a good head coach," Miami cornerback Byron Maxwell said. "He knows how to talk to you. He knows how to communicate to guys in the generation."

Broncos’ defensive reputation isn’t going anywhere

Joseph is a good fit for a team with an established defense — and certainly one with a formidable secondary — as long as he gets the right offensive coordinator. He's reportedly reached out to former Chargers coach Mike McCoy to fill that role already. McCoy also has a long history with the Broncos, having been the team’s offensive coordinator from 2010-12 before taking the San Diego Chargers’ head coaching job. It makes a lot of sense to bring him back and help fix an offense that was stuck in neutral last season.

There has already been talk of McCoy going to Buffalo as the offensive coordinator, and if that’s the case Joseph would be wise to pursue a similar option instead.

This also likely means the end of Phillips' time as defensive coordinator in Denver with defensive backs coach Joe Woods now the top candidate for that spot on Joseph's staff, per Rapoport.

The Broncos have finished with a top-five defense for three straight seasons and rode their ferocious unit to a Super Bowl title last year. With big-time defensive playmakers like Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and T.J. Ward under contract for a while, Joseph will have plenty to work with on defense.

As a first-time head coach, Joseph’s hiring is still a bit risky. Joseph doesn’t have any experience running his own team, and had only ever coached defensive backs before his one-year stint as Miami’s DC. Fortunately for him and the Broncos, there’s been success on that path before.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had only coached defensive backs in the NFL before spending one year as the defensive coordinator in Minnesota then getting hired by Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in his first season.

In Miami, Joseph used the Wide 9 defense to help solidify a front line that finished with 33 sacks. His philosophy is to attack.

"It’s something that I think fits well with a lot of guys that are going to be playing in it. Just getting after it, being aggressive," Dolphins DE Cameron Wake said before the season began.

Now Joseph can apply that approach from the top down.