Ultimately, there's only one measuring stick for a successful head coaching hire: wins.
And to get more of them, a team needs the right fit for its current situation. The Denver Broncos' situation was unique among teams that recently entered the often murky coach-searching waters. They're only one year removed from a championship season, and although they fell short of the playoffs in 2016, they still finished above .500 (9-7).
A dominant defense pushed them to within one game of the playoffs, even though Denver received inconsistent quarterback play and averaged just 323.1 offensive yards per game (27th).
When Gary Kubiak stepped down, the Broncos needed a replacement who could maintain the top-tier status of their defense. They needed someone who had experience working with both younger developing players and veteran reclamation projects.
They needed someone like Vance Joseph. So they hired Vance Joseph.
John Elway @johnelway
It's official. Excited to announce Vance Joseph as head coach of the Denver Broncos! https://t.co/m87uUn9KXs1/11/2017, 7:43:53 PM
The now-former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator became the 16th head coach in Broncos franchise history Wednesday.
Joseph went in for a second interview Wednesday, and as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, that follow-up chat was to finalize the deal. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Joseph signed a four-year contract.
There may be an initial impulse among some to look at Joseph, look at the Dolphins' defensive rankings under his watch and then look at Joseph once more with a furrowed brow.
Yes, it's true the Dolphins defense ranked 29th in 2016 by allowing 382.6 yards per game. The more important gauge is Miami's points allowed per week. The Dolphins were better in that area, though they still ranked 18th, giving up 23.8 points per game.
But those numbers need context, and they can't just sit as definitive proof of some flaw with the Broncos' new head coach.
Joseph had to continually adjust, tweak and tinker as he juggled injuries on a near-weekly basis with the Dolphins. He was already dealing with a talent-strapped unit to begin with. Then cornerback Byron Maxwell missed three games, Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones didn't make it past Week 6 because of a shoulder issue and linebacker Jelani Jenkins started only seven games.
So, Joseph did well to field an average defense in 2016. And he did even better to put together a defense that could swarm ball-carriers and get off the field on third down consistently. The Dolphins defense ranked fifth throughout the regular season, allowing opponents to convert only 36.3 percent of their third-down attempts.
If you're assessing Joseph, look a little bit past 2016 and past the surface. That's where you'll find Joseph's time as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach in 2014 and 2015. During both of those seasons, the Bengals secondary allowed only 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
But enough about numbers and rankings. Hiring the offensive or defensive coordinator who led the best unit the previous season is the most ordinary, basic and inside-the-box thinking a team can possibly have during any head coach search. Statistical analysis matters, but it usually isn't the first club out of the bag in either a coaching search or interview.
Which is why often those on the outside can be confused at first when someone like Joseph is hired. What we take for granted at times is that coaches aren't robotic, computerized figures. They need personality, charisma and a whole set of other critical tools that make them quality teachers.
The largest and most coveted tool in that box is leadership.
The words of those who have worked with Joseph recently carry a lot of weight. It seems that whatever he lacks in head coach or coordinating experience is made up for with natural leaderships skills.
"He brings a leadership quality that you really love about him," Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said, according to Andrew Mason of the Broncos' official website. "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."
Intangibles are best measured by those who have been around the game for a long time as a player, coach or executive. Broncos vice president John Elway has two of those bases covered. He's earned the right to have his coaching decisions respected after moving on from John Fox, then winning a Super Bowl under Kubiak.
There's plenty of support for Joseph beyond Elway and Gase, too, including praise from one of his most recent football students.
"His leadership qualities will make him a good head coach," Maxwell said, per Mason. "He knows how to talk to you. He knows how to communicate to guys in this generation. He's a leader of men."
That connection and Joseph's ability to relate to his players are partly tied to age. He's in the age sweet spot as a first-time head coach.
He only logged one season as a coordinator, but Joseph still has plenty of NFL coaching experience as a high-level position coach. He was a defensive backs coach for 10 years while working for three teams (Bengals, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers). Overall, he's been in the NFL since 2005 and started his coaching career at the University of Colorado in 1999.
He's done all that by the age of 44, making him the third-youngest NFL head coach, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Youngest Current NFL Head Coaches Adam Gase 38 years, 288 days Ben McAdoo 39 years, 186 days Vance Joseph 44 years, 113 days https://t.co/eVzykDpW0a1/11/2017, 8:13:01 PM
Youth is on his side then, which helps in the effort to form a bond with younger players. He's respected among his coaching peers, and Joseph has the defensive mind to keep an imposing, championship-caliber defense playing at that level.
The missing element is an equally strong offensive mind to work alongside Joseph and develop either Trevor Siemian, first-round pick Paxton Lynch or another quarterback not on the roster yet. The ideal solution is an offensive coordinator Denver is rather familiar with.
Mike McCoy was given a raw deal with the San Diego Chargers when his offense was also bombarded by injuries. He may be a head coach again one day, but for now, McCoy—who's a 44-year-old too—is looking for offensive coordinator work.
And as Rapoport reported, Joseph has a good idea of where he can find it:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
Dominoes… LBs coach Matt Burke becomes #Dolphins DC. Joe Woods likely becomes #Broncos DC. Mike McCoy a strong candidate for DEN OC.1/11/2017, 7:47:27 PM
McCoy was the Broncos offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012. During his final season in Denver, he orchestrated the league's fourth-ranked offense.
In the three prior years, he did the impossible by getting respectable production out of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
A Joseph-McCoy pairing would be an early offseason victory for a team that was on its way to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy at this time in 2016. But with Joseph alone, the Broncos have plugged in the right coach to reload, not rebuild, and head into 2017 with renewed title aspirations.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!