Hours before Vance Joseph’s Arizona Cardinals kicked off their season against the Kansas City Chiefs, his older brother called.
“Things are about to change,” Mickey Joseph said.
Eleven days into Joseph’s tenure as interim coach, Nebraska football already has. Joseph fired defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on Sunday after the Huskers’ 49-14 loss to Oklahoma one day earlier.
Two weeks ago, that wasn’t Joseph’s decision.
But 10 months after being hired as receivers coach, NU tapped Joseph to take over for former coach Scott Frost. So Joseph called Vance, the former Denver Broncos coach and current Cardinal defensive coordinator, for guidance.
What did Mickey need to know about running a program?
“It’s a big job because everybody looks to you for answers,” Vance said last week. “You know, every person that comes to your office, it's the most important thing on their mind at the moment. And for you, it could be a spitball.
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“But as the leader, as the head coach, you have to listen because it's a people's business.”
The people portion has always been a strength of Mickey's, Vance said. He views Nebraska’s new leader as “the truest form of a coach,” who always prioritized building communities and helping kids over status or money.
Vance said that his brother could’ve risen through the business faster while working at high schools and smaller colleges early in his career — Joseph had offers. Joseph chose the long road instead, coaching 21 years before earning his first Power Five job at LSU in 2017.
“I’ve always admired that about Mickey,” Vance said. “He’s never chased bigger jobs. He never chased the money. He's always been coaching for the right reasons.
“That's really rare these days. That’s more of an old-school approach to coaching is the love of the game. You’re a teacher, and I think he still sees himself that way.”
The teacher likes his projects, too.
Vance said Joseph’s early jobs were often “fix-it” situations where Joseph saw a need for change, no matter how small.
One example: Langston University, a historically black college where Joseph earned his first head coaching job in 2011, used to cram players onto two buses for long rides from Oklahoma when Joseph was an assistant. When he became coach, he ordered three buses for the team’s trip to Alabama, and the team left two nights before the game.
“Little things like that,” Joseph said. “Putting kids in the best possible situation they can be in to win the game."
Joseph has bigger issues in Lincoln, where the Huskers are 1-3 at the bye week break and have one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Vance says his older brother has always completed his fix-it projects, but this one is different.
Joseph had nine games (now eight) to change NU’s fortunes. He can’t add talent midseason. So what can he do?
“He can prove he can lead,” Vance said. “He can prove he can manage games and the team.”
And manage people.
Vance thinks his brother can inspire belief as the “ear, fixer and leader” of Nebraska football. Joseph probably won’t close the season 8-0, but he could “put his stamp on the program,” as Vance said, by building a strong culture.
If Joseph does, fans will know. They’ll see it in the players’ effort and the coaches’ engagement. They’ll hear it from cohesive messages during interviews. And Athletic Director Trev Alberts will see it from watching practice.
A coach can’t win without inspiring hope first, Vance said. And that’s his brother’s specialty.
“I see him rallying the troops and getting the kids to believe,” Vance said. "Winning is about believing in the process first. Once you fix the process, and the guys see it working, and you build belief within that process, that's when winning starts.
“That takes time, but I think Mickey’s the right guy for the job.”