Defensive backs coach Vance Joseph joined the Texans this offseason after six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
Joseph, 38, began his NFL coaching career with the 49ers in 2005 as a defensive assistant. He was promoted in 2006 to secondary coach, a position he shared with Johnnie Lynn until 2010.
Joseph also has coached defensive backs at Bowling Green, Colorado and Wyoming. He played defensive back in the NFL for two seasons, appearing in 17 games with the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts from 1995-96. A native of Marrero, La., he played quarterback and running back at Colorado.
In a recent sit-down interview with HoustonTexans.com, Joseph discussed his coaching background as well as his thoughts on how he can help improve the Texans’ secondary.
After six seasons in San Francisco as a co-secondary coach with Johnnie Lynn, how excited are you for this next step in your career?
“I’m excited about it. Working with Johnnie was great times because he was an experienced guy and we could learn a lot from each other. But this is exciting. It’s a good, young secondary, and hopefully I can help them with just fundamentals and technique and just basic football. They’re close. I mean, they play hard and they’re smart and they want to be good, so it’s going to be a fun challenge.”
What do you think about Wade Phillips and the opportunity to work with him?
“Oh, man. That’s why I’m here. Wade, he’s one of the icons on defense in the NFL. I’ve worked with three of his guys – Billy Davis, Mike Nolan and Greg Manusky – and they’ve all said the same thing about Wade: ‘He’s a great guy to work for. He’s a bright guy. You’re going to learn from Wade, and you’re going to be good.’ So I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Working with those three coaches in the past, how similar were their defenses to what you’ll be running here?
“Very, very similar. Their structure is very similar. Obviously, some of the terminology has changed over the years, but the structure of the defense, it’s basically the same. And that was the connection. That made it easy for myself and for Wade. It’s going to be a quick offseason, so it helps to have people who know your system so he’s not training me, he’s not training Reggie (Herring). Bill’s (Kollar) a D-line guy, so for him, that’s just the same principles. But the ‘backer and the secondary coach, it helps to be in that system so he’s not spending time training us so we can coach the players.”
You’re still pretty young (38). Who have been some of the biggest influences on your career so far?
“Well, I’m not that young. But my mentor was Tom McMahon – he passed away. I GA’d for him at Colorado. He was the first real coach I ever worked under. His foundation is what I still use as far as teaching, being a progressive teacher. And obviously, I’ve worked with Mike Nolan, who was a great defensive mind – who still is – in the NFL. Billy Davis has been in the league 20 years. And Greg Maunksy, he played for 12 and he’s been a coordinator for now six. So I think a combination of all those guys. And I’ve been blessed to be really in that same family tree for my entire NFL career. And now with Wade, it’s the same family tree, so that’s neat. That’s an easy transition.”
What are some of your fundamental coaching philosophies?
“When you work with guys like that, you understand quick that players come first and the scheme second. So you do what players do well. It’s a fundamental game. That’s never going to change. Tackling, footwork, eye placement, that’s always going to be the game. It’s a game of error; the team who makes the least mistakes wins the game. So for me, it’s a fundamental game. It’s always players first and scheme second. Scheme helps you win, but the player fundamentals keep you winning.”
What excites you about the group of players that you’re stepping in to coach here in Houston?
“They’re young. That helps, because most of them are blank pages so they don’t have a lot of bad habits. They’re aggressive. And they want to win. When they’re young and want to win, that means they will work at it. Having veterans helps, but if you’re young and aggressive, you can play in this league and win in this league.”
How much has your experience playing in the NFL helped you relate to current players?
“Well, I think it gives you a little bit of credibility. Not all, because a lot of ex-players have coached. I think with players, if you can help them keep their jobs, they respect you, but if you can do that and also you’ve played, I think it’s instant credibility. You kind of know what they’re going through physically and mentally, so it just helps you understand players better, that’s all. But it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great coach because you played. That’s totally separate. It helps you sometimes, but in some cases it can hurt you also, because you can’t coach your talent or you can’t coach your limitations or your strengths. Every player’s different. Coaching’s different than playing. So for me, it’s a big deal but not a big deal.”
You had a pretty interesting playing career, going from quarterback at Colorado to defensive back in the NFL. In what ways has that transition been beneficial to you as a coach?
“Even as a player, being a quarterback my entire life helped me play defense better, because I can obviously recognize what offenses are doing. So I knew the danger zones from a defensive perspective. So even coaching now, I can watch the offense and I can know exactly what they’re doing and who they’re trying to attack. I think to be an effective offensive or defensive coach, you have to know what the opposite sides are doing. I mean, you can go out there and just play ball and not know what they’re trying to attack, and that’s not the way to go. But for me, it’s helped over the years, understanding offenses, route combinations, protections and quarterback reads. That helps me a lot. I can see it and get it right away without even thinking about it. It just comes natural to me. So that’s been a plus.”