When Vance Joseph last wore a Miami Dolphins hat above his headset, the team played well enough to earn a spot in the 2016 NFL Playoffs, which in itself is a miracle.
Several years later, the Dolphins appear interested in a reunion. Joseph, who just concluded his third season as the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, reportedly interviewed for Miami’s head coaching vacancy on Friday, Jan. 21. In large part because of his familiarity with the organization, Joseph is an intriguing candidate to replace the recently-fired Brian Flores.
Pros: Joseph is a proven defensive mind with head coaching experience and familiarity with the Dolphins
Typically, there are two types of NFL teams during the offseason coaching carousel. There are ones that can afford to get away with hiring a trendy coordinator, and there are ones that need someone who is older and has already been an NFL head coach before.
Joseph, who turned 50 in September and went 11-21 as the Denver Broncos’ head coach from 2017-18, checks the last two boxes for a Dolphins team in desperate need of stability. Miami hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2016 and is still searching for its first postseason victory since Dec. 30, 2000. At the time, Joseph was 28 years old and a graduate assistant at the University of Colorado.
According to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, the veteran defensive mind considered interviewing with the Dolphins to be “pretty cool” given his brief history there.
“Obviously, I worked there before, so I’m familiar with the building, [general manager Chris Grier], and the owner [Stephen Ross], and those things are always good.”Vance Joseph
Considering his age and the NFL’s preference for offensive-minded head coaches, this could very well be Joseph’s last realistic chance at earning a head coaching position. It helps that the Cardinals’ defense improved from allowing 27.6 points per game in 2019 (fifth-worst in the NFL) to 21.5 PPG (11th-best) this season.
Cons: Miami doesn’t know how much blame Joseph deserves for an ugly two years as the Broncos’ head coach
In professional sports, it’s often not how you start but how you finish. Arizona lost five of its final six games (counting the NFC Wild Card Round) and was outscored 176-117 in that span. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury earned widespread criticism throughout the season’s final month amid the Cardinals’ collapse.
How much of the blame there falls on Joseph? The same question also applies to his 11-21 tenure in Denver. On the one hand, Broncos players regularly supported the first-time head coach, especially after a disappointing 5-11 showing in 2017. However, one is only as good as their record, and going 10 games under .500 isn’t exactly appealing.
The Dolphins — and any team looking to hire Joseph as its head coach — must determine how much of what went wrong in Denver is on him and how much should fall on then-general manager John Elway. Although Elway is a legendary quarterback, he failed to find a reliable signal-caller, save his decision to sign Peyton Manning in March 2012, upon the five-time NFL MVP’s retirement in 2016.
Elway and the Broncos also didn’t embark on a post-Super Bowl 50 rebuild until firing Joseph after the 2018 season. By then, it was too late, and the Broncos have been mired in mediocrity since.
At least with regards to on-field performance, one poor head coaching stint shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting another opportunity. As for someone like Urban Meyer, that’s another conversation entirely.
Should the Dolphins hire Joseph as their next head coach?
As of publication, the Dolphins had primarily interviewed offensive-minded candidates, including Buffalo Bills OC Brian Daboll and Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore. Before Joseph’s interview, Cowboys DC Dan Quinn was the only defensive candidate who had officially interviewed to replace Flores.
Joseph, much like his defenses, is a solid yet unspectacular option. His experience as both a head coach and someone who has called plays could appeal to a franchise that hasn’t hired someone with NFL head coaching experience since Dave Wannstedt, who went 42-31 in parts of five seasons with the Dolphins. Wannstedt previously went 40-56 as the Chicago Bears’ head coach from 1993-98.
However, the Cardinals’ troubling end to the 2021 season raises questions about who is at fault. Then again, the same applies for Moore and Quinn, both of whom remain trendy candidates on the open market.
With respect to Joseph and Quinn, Miami must prioritize an offensive-minded candidate, ideally in the form of Daboll or former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who is still yet to interview with the team. Although Daboll has never been a head coach, he is also familiar with the organization — he served as the Dolphins’ OC in 2011 — and served as oft-criticized Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovalioa’s offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama in 2017.
The NFL is a copycat league, and Joseph’s interview in Miami could earn him other opportunities in the coming weeks. However, the Dolphins are better off looking in another direction.