Vance Joseph was at it again on Thursday, telling anyone who would listen how a defensive back he knows intimately was simply overmatched and not ready to succeed in his first NFL assignment covering Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown.
Joseph called that long-ago player’s NFL debut “a baptism by fire” and went on to suggest it’s a good thing he quickly moved on to other life endeavors.
Oh, yes, Vance Joseph the coach was talking about Vance Joseph, the former New York Jets defensive back.
“I’m a better coach,” Joseph said, “than I was an NFL corner.”
That anecdote was fun and entertaining and got a laugh from reporters, but it also showed part of what Joseph has been about during his short time as the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator:
The coach was delivering a candid and no-holds-barred assessment of himself from back in the day. And that’s what he typically does when he’s talking about his defensive unit, his players, and, yes, himself as a coach today.
“Our first day when we got here as a staff, I told the guys, ‘We’re going to live in the truth here. And it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad player or I’m a bad coach,’ ” Joseph said.
“The truth works. With players and coaches alike the truth works. That way, everyone always knows where they stand. So much in this league is everyone sugarcoating everything. You hear coaches say, ‘He’s playing OK,’ when everyone knows he’s not. We don’t do that here.”
When Joseph recognized Byron Maxwell wasn’t playing as he was being coached, he told the veteran cornerback.
Then he warned Maxwell he might get benched. And when Maxwell continued to struggle, he was benched.
When Mario Williams was failing to produce the first month of the season or so, Joseph told him he needed to play harder.
And when reporters asked how Williams was playing, Joseph told reporters Williams needed to play harder.
Joseph has been direct and honest when speaking publicly about all of his players. And the amazing thing is no one has complained.
“He calls you out, but he calls everybody out,” Maxwell said. “His transparency is cool. He’s a great leader.”
Joseph’s gift is he can speak the truth without drama.
“As a coach I make mistakes and I tell them, ‘Guys, that’s a bad call or that’s a bad defense,’ ” Joseph said. “And when you’re transparent with the players that way, it comes back to you as transparency from them. But if you never tell players if you’re wrong or you’re right, and you don’t tell them the truth, they won’t give you the truth.
“So we live in truth in our room. They’re used to it. When I tell [reporters], [the players] already know it. You ask me, I’ll tell you. You don’t ask, I won’t tell you. If you ask and I tell you, they’ve heard it already. It’s not a surprise to them. They won’t read in the media that Coach V.J. said you [stink]. No, I already told the guys that in a meeting.”
So how does that work with the varied personalities on the Dolphins defense? How does that work with players who come to work with varying degrees of self-esteem?
“I still love them. I love them up,” Joseph said. “I still want them to be the best players they can be. That’s an easy way to approach players. It’s about what actually happened. Here’s what happened. It’s a way to look at life.
“Players want the truth. Honestly, they do. They don’t want you to sugarcoat something and then on Monday morning they read how bad they played or they’re cut or demoted for doing wrong. They want the truth so they can do better for you. That’s how we live.”
Joseph admits there are thin-skinned players on his defense. He even admits he’s thin-skinned about some things. But that is not a hindrance to the truth.
“I’m thin-skinned sometimes on certain things, but you get over it,” Joseph said. “That’s a learned behavior. If you live in a world where you’re never told the truth, you can become thin-skinned. But in our room, the thin-skinned guys get over it quickly because everyone gets treated the same.”
Let’s put Joseph’s truth-telling to the test …
Who is ballin’ on this defense, I ask.
“Cameron Wake is ballin’,” Joseph said. “Andre Branch is ballin’. Kiko Alonso is ballin’. Jordan Phillips is playing well in spurts. He’s a young player. He can play better. Isa Abdul-Quddus has played well the last two weeks.”
And who isn’t?
“Jelani Jenkins needs to come back off his injuries, and he needs to play faster,” Joseph said. “Tony Lippett needs to make more plays. He knows that. He needs to play better.”
So is the Dolphins defense, Vance Joseph’s defense, a good NFL defense now as it prepares to face the New York Jets on Sunday?
“I think we’re trying to be good,” Joseph said.
“Numbers sometimes can give you too much credit and too much blame. Until we rectify … the Pittsburgh game we played well except for the one big reverse for 65 yards. Good defenses don’t do that.
“Buffalo Bills game we’ve got them contained but give up a 67-yard touchdown on a vertical route in a Cover 2. So until we rectify that one big play a game, I won’t be satisfied with us.
“I think we have a chance to be good. In my opinion, we’re tying to be good. We’re not good yet.”