Like Newton, perhaps the favorite to win the NFL MVP Award for the 2015 season and days removed from appearing in Super Bowl 50, Joseph was an option quarterback in college.
He was a good enough athlete to have a brief career in the NFL, but it required a position change, and it’s what ultimately has led him to become defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.
“I’m a better coach than player,” Joseph said. “I was an average player, man, but I’m a pretty good coach, though.”
Considering teams tried to hire him away from Cincinnati the past two offseasons, there isn’t much doubt about Joseph’s ability as a coach.
Along with obviously possessing some natural leadership skills, Joseph also learned from some great defensive minds along the way.
He played under longtime NFL defensive backs coach Peter Giunta during his rookie season in 1995; he coached defensive backs in San Francisco under former head coach and former Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan; and also worked under highly regarded defensive coordinators Wade Phillips and Mike Zimmer, now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
It was during his time in San Francisco that Joseph first met new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, who was an offensive assistant with the 49ers in 2008.
“Mike Nolan hired me in San Fran and Mike has been a great defensive mind in the league for a long time,” Joseph said. “I leave Mike and I go to Wade Phillips (in Houston). That was the ultimate guy to work with because Wade is a great guy, but he’s played more top 10 defense than anybody in NFL history. His personality, all aggressive, and leaving there and going to Cincy with Marvin Lewis, who’s been a great defensive mind also and Mike Zimmer and those guys, it’s been a blessing to be around three or four top-tier guys in this business. Those guys teach you what it looks like, so when you see it, you know it.”
Joseph’s teams went to the playoffs four of the past five seasons — Houston in 2011-12, Cincinnati in 2014-15 — and he believes that experience can only benefit him in his new role with the Dolphins.
“I think it’s simple, as coaches, if you’ve been in the playoffs three or four times the last four years you know what it looks like,” he said. “So when you see it on tape and you watch your team play, you know what it looks like. That’s the biggest deal with coaches. If you’ve never been a part of a playoff team or a great defense, you don’t know what it looks like, so how can you even fix it or how can you transfer it to a program? My background, I’ve been with great defensive minds, with Wade Phillips and those guys, obviously being around a Mike Zimmer type defense. You know what it looks like and once you see it, it’ll be clear that this team is a playoff team.”
Joseph has indicated the Dolphins will continue playing a base 4-3 defense, although he pointed out that every team plays the majority of its defensive snaps in the nickel.
Joseph does have a clear idea of what he wants the Miami defense to look like.
“My vision for the defense is going to be attacking,” Joseph said. “We want to be an attacking-style defense that obviously wins first down and puts the offense behind the 8-ball. That’s our goal each week, to be attacking, to have tight coverage outside and obviously be a smart defense. We want to build a tough, aggressive but smart unit. That’s my vision for the defense.”
Joseph, who coached two Pro Bowl defensive backs in Cincinnati last season in cornerback Adam Jones and safety Reggie Nelson, says he likes the talent on the Dolphins defense.
“Even before taking the job, you go through all the rosters, kind of figure out who’s who, but every NFL team three or four, even five, NFL front-line starters,” Joseph said. “And the rest, it’s the same. You’ve got to draft well, you’ve got to find the right pieces. But playing great defense is not about having 11 superstars. It’s about accountability, it’s about being smart, it’s about being tough. We’ve got some front-line guys here to build around. I’m excited about having a chance to work with these guys because they’ve got enough right now in the building to play top 10 defense.”
During his own playing career, Joseph appeared in 17 games and started six, all with the New York Jets in 1995. He earned a spot on the Jets roster as a rookie free agent.
His decision to try out for the Jets would shape the rest of his career.
“I was an option quarterback in college; that’s a running back,” Joseph explained. “That’s like a little Cam Newton, right? My senior year I was really between going to Canada to play quarterback or going to the Jets to try out defensive back. I chose the Jets; it worked out for me. I made the team as a rookie and I played in the league about three or four years, but nothing long at all. I finished in Denver with an injury.
“It was a really short career, but it did help to meet different coaches. I met (Gary) Kubiak then; I met Peter Giunta then. Those guys have really helped me in my career. Those three or four years playing were really important to my coaching career. More important than my playing career because it wasn’t long, but it helped my coaching career — a lot.”
Here were some of Joseph’s thoughts on various topics during his first press conference with the South Florida media:
• On what he sees as the building blocks for this defense: “My philosophy is it’s built with rushers and corners. If you can rush the passer and cover outside it helps the schematics during game weeks. Rushing and covering is the bottom line of playing great defense in the NFL. If you can rush and cover, that’s the key.”
• On what this job means to him personally: “It’s been a long time coming, obviously. I had the chance to interview two years ago for coordinator jobs and it didn’t happen. And in my mind that was probably a good thing. I was ready two years ago, but leaving Houston, going to (Cincinnati), being a part of a new system, that’s always a good thing for a coach — going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in Cincy, that’s important in your coaching background.”
• On the opportunity to work with DT
• On keeping defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo on the staff after he was the interim defensive coordinator last season: “He’s a good football coach. I didn’t want to come in and just assume that everyone here was a bad football coach. So I interviewed Lou, I’ve known Lou for four or five years now through Kevin (Coyle) and those guys in Cincy. He’s a good football coach and it helps to have a guy who has been on staff to kind of be a bridge between the old and new. I’m excited to have Lou, the players really enjoyed playing for Lou, and that’s important to me. It’s a players’ game. It wasn’t about me coming in with Lou, it was more about what’s best for our players and best for our team.”
• On whether he is more aggressive or more conservative as a play-caller: “I think every game is going to be different. I grew up with (Denver Broncos defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips and he is aggressive all of the time. That’s Wade’s deal. Every game is going to be different and I’m going to call the game to win the game that day. It can be conservative, it can be aggressive, but it’s more about the team and how the team can win the game that day.”