When Vance Joseph arrived at the University of Colorado as a 17-year-old freshman quarterback in 1990, he had a lot of growing up to do.

Yet, surrounded by strong leaders, Joseph spent his time in Boulder building the foundation that has led him to now becoming the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

On Thursday, Joseph, 44, was introduced as the Broncos' newest head coach, coming back to the state where he once played and got his start in coaching.

"I'm a Buff," he said during his introductory press conference. "Everybody knows that. I spent most of my young life in Colorado. I welcome the chance to come back to this great community. It raised me. It's a great place to live. It's a great place to raise a family. I'm excited about that. I'm being reunited with a lot of friends and family and having a lot of support here, it's exciting."

It's exciting for the CU community, as well. CU sports information director David Plati said Joseph is believed to be the first former CU player to become an NFL head coach.

"It's kind of cool ground to break," Plati said.

Those who watched Joseph grow up aren't surprised he's reached this point in his coaching career.

A backup quarterback throughout his CU career — sitting behind CU legends Darian Hagan (1990-91) and Kordell Stewart (1992-94) — Joseph showed signs of becoming a coach.

Backup quarterbacks often wear headsets on the sidelines to communicate with coaches up in the press box. Plati recalls an assistant coach once telling him that having Joseph on the headset was "like having another coach on the sidelines."


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"That usually tells you somebody's got a pretty good football acumen from the get-go," Plati said.

Joseph was the third-string quarterback on CU's 1990 national championship team. Hagan recalls that he and Joseph were immature and said the two were "the life of the party," but they leaned on second-string quarterback Charles Johnson, who was a senior in 1990.

"(Johnson) was more of a father figure for the room," Joseph told BuffZone.com in 2015.

While Joseph may have come to CU with some immaturity, as most 17-year-olds would, he gravitated toward the strong leaders around him — such as Johnson and, of course, head coach Bill McCartney.

"He was an ultimate leader of men from a spiritual standpoint, from off the field, on the field," Joseph said Thursday. "So Mac taught us to be young men. I mean, he raised me. I was 17 years old as a freshman. I've had some hard lessons from Mac. Mac knew if he was hard on you early on that he could save you from yourself."

While Hagan was older than Joseph, he said he was always impressed with Joseph and saw coach-like qualities in him right away.

"He was always prepared and so dialed in every day," Hagan said. "He never took anything for granted, and he knows football from both sides - offense and defense. He is really competitive, as well."

Joseph played two seasons in the NFL as a defensive back and then got his start in coaching at CU from 1999-2001, working for head coach Gary Barnett as a graduate assistant.

Hagan, who currently coaches the running backs at CU, said he's watched Joseph rise through the coaching ranks and has been impressed with Joseph's growth.

"He is a natural leader and great teacher," Hagan said. "Discipline, fair and an excellent communicator. He will get (the Broncos) to follow him. I'm so proud of him.

"He has been around great leaders. Coach Barnett gave him his start (in coaching) and always said that he would be a great head coach. His defense will be great; he learned from Wade (Phillips). Follow his plan and greatness is on the horizon."

Hagan said he's excited to see his "Buff Brother" get this opportunity.

"He has been preparing for this moment, and when it was presented he was ready," Hagan said. "He will do well."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.