When Adam Gase hired Vance Joseph to run the Miami Dolphins defense as its coordinator, the head coach figured it wouldn’t be long before others noticed Joseph, and feelers about head coaching jobs would start coming in.
Well, the feelers aren’t in yet, but Joseph on Monday was added to a prestigious list of minority candidates the minority advocacy group Fritz Pollard Alliance handed over to NFL officials at an annual meeting.
The list and the respect with which the Fritz Pollard Alliance is viewed typically goes a long way toward getting those named interviews for head coach or general manager jobs.
This year the coaching list includes multiple offensive and defensive coordinators the group believes are ready to make the jump to head jobs.
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This list includes Joseph, Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards, Buffalo offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, Tennessee offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, and Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. Falcons receivers coach and assistant head coach Raheem Morris is the only name on the list who is not a coordinator and also the only person on the list who has previously been a full-time NFL head coach.
“We feel like these guys are ready,” John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, told the Washington Post. “These guys are from winning programs. One thing we said to the league is that we know the Rooney Rule says you have to interview at least one minority candidate. We’d like the league and the ownership to go beyond that. We want them to look at the entire body of work, bring in a number of guys and let the interview process determine who gets the job.”
Joseph, 44 and not yet finished with his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator, was unavailable for comment about being on the list. But a source close to him said the Miami defensive coordinator, while pleased he’s considered head coach material, is neither actively thinking about nor seeking any other job now.
“He has a good job he’s happy with right now,” the source said. “He went to Miami to turn that defense around and he enjoys that job. He’s thinking about winning games right now.”
While the Dolphins defense is not statistically among the league leaders in fewest points allowed -- it is tied with Buffalo for 14th spot, having allowed 314 points -- this Dolphins coaching staff has obviously changed the culture and is enjoying success not known in Miami the past few years.
That’s good for an up-and-coming coach such as Joseph, who players such at Cameron Wake and others veterans look up to.
“He’s our leader on defense,” cornerback Byron Maxwell said of Joseph.
Joseph this year has gotten excellent performances out of vets such as Ndamukong Suh, Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and others who either struggled last year with other teams or under the previous Miami coaching staff. He has helped to develop younger players such as Tony Lippett.
And he’s done this, in part, by being honest, transparent and plain spoken with his players and everyone else he’s dealing with.
That includes the media, by the way. Consider how Joseph conducted his presser like a maestro Wednesday morning:
(You guys held RB LeSean McCoy in check last time around. You would surely welcome the same effort this time around, right?) “Absolutely. Obviously, last time he wasn’t 100 percent. He only played half the downs. It was an overall good effort. He had about what, 47 yards rushing? But he makes a difference. It’s different with him. He’s the best ‘make-you-miss’ back in the entire league. So 47 yards for him, that’s kind of wishful thinking that it;s going to be the same. He makes a difference.”
(What’s the key this week? Obviously, we ask you every week about the run defense. The stats really haven’t changed.) “Right. Well, the key is setting the edge. It’s an outside-running team. It’s an outside-running style that Shady (LeSean McCoy) has. Setting the edge, gap integrity, swarm tackling is going to be key. He’s going to make guys miss. We have to hustle to the ball and get a bunch of hats to the ball.”
(A couple things on the linebacker corps. Obviously LB Kiko Alonso has had a very good year. How has he done against the run? And also, how tough has it been to have this makeshift group keep it together with LB Jelani Jenkins hurt, LB Koa Misi out for the year and now Kiko?) “I think Kiko’s done well against the run. Again, the rushing stats or numbers, I think they’re important in some aspects; but the last month and a half, it’s been OK. I’m fine if we play 79 snaps and they rush for 120 yards, because rushing yards don’t always equal to points. It equals to burning the clock, and that’s fine with me. Passing yards is where the points are scored. So I’m fine with where we are in rushing defense. I wish we were Top Five, but I’m happy we’re winning. That’s more important than having great rushing stats. The linebacker group, it’s been a work in progress. Losing Koa, losing Jelani for half the season basically and having (Spencer Paysinger) and (Neville) Hewitt fill in. So it’s been a work in progress, but all of those kids have been good at filling in. It’s been a good group. It’s tough when you don’t have the same guys playing every week. That makes it tough. But who cares? No one cares. We have to go play.”
(Your Pro Bowl picks, I’d like to ask you about them separately. Your reaction seeing DE Cameron Wake selected, with the long road he’s taken to get back to this point.) “Obviously, Cam had a horrific injury last year. He missed half the season, came back and worked hard in the offseason. He had a great camp and didn’t make his first start until Week 5. He’s had a great year. He’s had 4.5 sacks called back. He’s got 10 (sacks) with 4.5 called back, so he would be the leader in the NFL for sacks. Outside of that, Cam’s been a great leader. He’s been a great example for our young kids and that’s important. (Ndamukong) Suh has had a dominant year. Sometimes being an inside guy, his stats don’t reflect that; but for us, he’s been a dominant force. For coaches voting, for players voting, watching the tape, they know what he’s meant to our defense. Again, that being said, he’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great leader in the locker room. He’s been a great person. So that’s important also.”
(I’m sure it wasn’t the plan to play CB Xavien Howard 68 snaps on Saturday. How did he handle that responsibility and also how was he after the game, coming off that injury?) “He handled it well. Going into the game, we were hoping to play him 15 snaps and obviously, Byron Maxwell went down early, and he played 68 snaps and he played very well. That’s why he was drafted as a second-round player. He’s tall and long. He’s got great movement. He’s got a great demeanor about him. He’s kind of a relaxed, too laid back of a person; but that helps sometimes being a young corner. He just kind of plays. He was over Brandon Marshall for most of the night and it didn’t affect him at all. He did his job. He played leverage, he played technique and he did a fine job. He’s fine this week. He’s ready to go if Max can’t go. He’s ready to go every snap.”
Every week in the NFL, you see defensive ends and guys rushing up field on third-and-long, and then back sneaks out, screen pass. But you guys did a very good job of making sure that help is covered and making sure that you guys were aware of the backs. Is that something that you saw in film last week that you monitored and studied up?) “Absolutely. Any time it is third-and-long, you have to have a mindset of screen game or check down. Our guys, again, they’re unselfish guys. Most guys want the sack on third-and-12, third-and-13; but our guys are very aware of the check downs, very aware of the screen game. Even last week, it was still tough last week with (Bilal) Powell because he’s such a good player. He caught it in space and made guys miss and got first downs early on in the ball game. But our guys are very aware of the screen, the check down game. That’s part of being not selfish as far as pass rushers. That’s tough to find in the league.”
(You spoke of DT Ndamukong Suh being a great person, a great leader this year. His teammates have said he’s been more of a leader this year in terms of speaking more. Was that a conversation you or Head Coach Adam Gase had with him in the offseason encouraging that?) “Yes, because he asked what more can he do to help us win. We told him being a leader, because he does things right. Sometimes guys who are doing things right, sometimes they’re kind of on their own doing it right, and that helps us win also. But having a young football team, he had to be more vocal. He had to spread his wisdom to Jordan (Phillips) and those guys more often than he has in the past. So he’s been great at that. He’s a constant professional as far as taking care of his body, as far as how he studies. His football IQ is very high. So the more he shares with those young kids, the better they’re going to be in the future.”
(Have you seen DT Ndamukong Suh [sharing his wisdom] in action with some young players? Because him and DT Jordan Phillips ran out together on their player introduction the other day. It seems like it is rubbing off.) “Absolutely. He’s been great with Jordan. He’s been great with Nick (Williams) and the room. It’s a veteran room for the most part, but Jordan is kind of the young guy in the room that needs guidance, and he’s been great with Jordan. Jordan is going to be a great player in the future. But he needs support from Suh. He needs a guy to kind of mentor him through this process.”
(The Dolphins are 0-4 in their last four trips to Buffalo. I know that doesn’t necessarily affect this game, but are players aware of things like that? And the team on the upper half, does it give them an edge and the team on the lower half, does it get in their minds?) “I think our team right now wouldn’t be aware of that because we kind of preach that this team has never lost to Buffalo in Buffalo. This is a new team. They’re a new team. Every team we play, it’s a new opportunity for us. I would be surprised if guys knew that. Obviously, if they read it in your guys’ column, they’ll figure it out, but I would be shocked if they knew that. And I would be shocked if they cared. At this point, we’re playing with a great belief right now as far as the entire team. I think we’re confident. We’re going to work all week and give it our best shot on Saturday, so I would be shocked if they knew that and they wouldn’t care if they did.”
(Given the fact that this is your first year as a defensive coordinator, how much personally would it mean to you to make the playoffs?) “It would mean a lot. I think for the entire team, the process, because when you’re a new staff, it’s tough to preach your process without success. Success allows the players to believe your process. You can have a great plan -- a great process -- and if they never win with it, why would a player believe it? So going forward for this entire football club, I think it’s important to win and have success because we’re going to be better in the future, obviously. But it’s important for players to know the process works. So going forward next year, we’re not selling the process. ‘Guys, you know it works. So let’s get better with the process.’ Adding pieces we need and adding more knowledge and more work. So the process helps you in the future, kind of sell the dream.”
This guy is going to be an NFL head coach some day.
Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero