ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If you removed their titles and looked at their body of work, you may not be able to tell the difference between the Denver Broncos new head coach and new defensive coordinator.
They both come from a defensive background, specifically defensive backs, are similar in age, 44 and 46, and neither has much high-level coaching experience in the NFL. In fact, the two have a combined total of one year of experience at the coordinator position level or higher, and now they are two of the most powerful coaches on a team that is one year removed from winning a Super Bowl.
The biggest difference between the two, outside of their paychecks, is that one, head coach Vance Joseph, is a Colorado Buffalo.
Less than 10 days later, on Wednesday, Elway hired defensive-minded Joseph as the 16th head coach in the organization’s history. On Sunday, four days after Joseph took over, he promoted defensive backs coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator.
“Joe’s a bright coach, and he’s obviously ready to be a coordinator in this league,” Joseph said. “I love Joe, and I’ve been friends with Joe for a long time, and he’s a great ball coach with his detail.”
While allowing former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to move on without much fight was met with scrutiny from many, the promotion of Woods signified a long-term commitment to the defense. Just as Joseph had been the hot coaching candidate in recent years—promoted from the Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach to the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator in the 2016 offseason to now the Broncos head coach a year later—Woods was starting to pick up similar traction around the league.
There was a chance that if Woods wasn’t promoted to defensive coordinator now, another team could steal him away. There were reports that an NFC team contacted the Broncos requesting to interview Woods for their defensive coordinator position.
Almost certainly, if he didn’t get picked up this year, a team would take him away next year. Now, for Woods to leave the team before his contract expires, he would have to be hired as a head coach, something his boss Joseph did just after one season as coordinator.
Joseph, 44, and Woods, 46, are most similar in their affinity for leading excellent defensive back units. In Joseph’s most recent stint as defensive backs coach for the Bengals in 2014-15, his unit combined for the most interceptions (41) in that two-year span.
As for Woods, his most recent unit hasn’t been too shabby either. In the past two seasons, where he led the Broncos defensive backs, they led the league in passing yards allowed, only allowing 185.5 per game in 2016.
“Joe is a guy who can obviously defend the NFL pass game, that’s tough,” Joseph said. “Most of the game plan starts in the back end; it’s a passing league, so Joe is very capable.”
While they both had talent on their respective units, they each have a deep background coaching secondaries. Woods’ 13 seasons as defensive backs coach is actually two more than Joseph’s 11, but Joseph also had two years as a player in the NFL along with his one year as defensive coordinator last season.
They both entered the coaching ranks at the collegiate level—Joseph as a CU graduate assistant in 1999 and Woods at Muskingum College in 1992 as an assistant—and both entered the NFL coaching ranks within a year of each other— Joseph in 2005 and Woods in 2004.
However, even with such similar resumes, this will be the first time the two will work together.
In a league that is pass-first, pass-often the Broncos have doubled down defending the pass—both in their financial commitments to the secondary, and their commitment to the coaching ranks at every level. Joseph and Woods’ similarities are striking, and Joseph is hoping that combining their success in the back-end leads to a successful overall defense.