ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – John Elway is giving Vance Joseph another chance.
The Broncos general manager decided to retain his rookie head coach Monday following a 5-11 season that was in many ways the franchise’s worst since Denver’s dismal AFL days in the 1960s.
“Vance and I had a great talk this morning about our plan to attack this offseason and get better as a team,” Elway tweeted . “We believe in Vance as our head coach. Together, we’ll put in the work to improve in all areas and win in 2018.”
Aiding that effort, they’ll have the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft in April.
Plus, Elway is expected to embark on yet another veteran QB search after watching his offense regress under the turnstile trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, all of them his draft picks.
What Elway won’t have to do now is go looking for his fourth head coach in five years.
Choosing continuity over change, though, still means Joseph has to do things differently.
He’ll have to coach both his players and his staff better than he did in his first season, for one. And he went right to work shaking up that staff, firing special teams coordinator Brock Olivo. Also jettisoned were longtime receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, O-line coach Jeff Davidson and running backs coach Eric Studesville, who had been in Denver since 2010 and was the interim head coach after Josh McDaniels’ firing that year.
Elway labeled his team a bunch of softies at one point during their long losing streak, which didn’t immediately snap them out of their funk but instead produced blowback and 72 hours later, Elway said he was including himself in that critique.
Top pick Garett Bolles was one of the most penalized players in the league and was openly mocked in the locker room by some of his teammates after the tough-talking left tackle was bowled over by Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Three Denver defenders said Bolles, who got flipped on his head, ignored their warnings about that exact result if he didn’t fix his poor technique.
Aside from Bolles, who started all 16 games, the 2017 draft class couldn’t get onto the field.
The other seven picks combined to miss more games – 75 – than they played – 37 – and they had zero starts. Meanwhile, seven undrafted players combined to play 58 games and start three.
A year after an offensive-defensive rift opened in the Broncos locker room, there was a generational gap in 2017. Several veterans said the rookie class just didn’t grasp the NFL leap until the season was already a lost cause.
Of the six head coaching vacancies last season, Joseph was widely believed to have inherited the best situation, taking over a team coming off a 9-7 season and just one year removed from a Super Bowl parade. In his words, they didn’t need a rebuild but a reboot after he replaced Gary Kubiak, who stepped away over health concerns.
But after winning all four of their exhibitions and starting off 3-1, things fell apart.
They lost eight straight, their longest skid in a half century , and eight times they lost by double digits.
“Brock said something yesterday that hit me: now we know what it feels like to have a bad NFL season,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “I think it was hard for all of us to get a grasp of it and change it during the season because a lot of us had never seen it.”
Joseph stuck with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy well into the season even as the former Chargers head coach stubbornly stuck to an offense heavy on the pass and spread formations that proved Denver’s undoing.
His replacement, Bill Musgrave, called more plays designed around his players’ strengths and the ground game.
With speculation about his future swirling, Joseph said Sunday, “It’s been a hard year, but everyone kept fighting. I want to be here to fix it.”
So, now he’ll get the chance to do something no other head coach has done in the Super Bowl era: take a team that won four fewer games than the one he inherited and engineer a comeback to reach the playoffs.
“I think it’s on us as players. We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain to help (Joseph) and all the coaches,” Anderson said. “I can promise you, sitting right here – you can put it on record – he gets a second chance, our record won’t be 5-11. We won’t have a losing season.”
Throughout the last three months of losing, one thing Joseph never lost was the locker room.
“I think he’s got the respect of the guys,” Siemian said. “At times like this I think it’s easy to point fingers. And nobody in here’s done that and it’s a credit to Coach Joseph and how he steered this thing.”
Osweiler summed it up for a lot of his teammates:
“Winning five football games is not the standard here in Denver. The standard and the expectations are to compete for Super Bowls. When you don’t do that, it’s a failed season,” he said.
“This year was very frustrating. It was aggravating. It just wasn’t acceptable.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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