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Why Joe Woods and Brock Olivo feel ready as first-time coordinators

Posted Feb 7, 2017

Lessons gathered throughout their careers have Woods and Olivo ready to excel with the Broncos.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Life on the football field is easier with Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib on your side.

The same goes for off the field, which new Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods is finding out quickly as he adjusts to his promotion from defensive backs coach.

“Through those first two years, [the defensive backs] learned to respect me as a coach in terms of what I’ve done,” said Woods on Tuesday at a press conference introducing the Broncos’ three new coordinators. “It definitely makes it easier moving forward [and] really coaching the whole defense.” 

The transition from working with individual players to leading an entire unit is one charged to Woods and Special Teams Coordinator Brock Olivo as the two take on roles as coordinators for the first time. And as they adjust, they’ll rely on heavily on the assistants with whom they will work.

For Woods, that help comes in the form of veteran Broncos coaches Fred Pagac, Bill Kolar and Reggie Herring. He also welcomes his former mentor Johnnie Lynn to Denver, and Lynn could prove to be Woods’ most valuable asset as he helps guide the Broncos’ best unit.

“He’s a guy that’s forgotten more football than we already know put together,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said. “We’re happy to have Johnnie. He’s an experienced guy who’s great with players. And again, with Joe being a first-time coordinator, having Johnnie in the fold is going to be critical.”

In Olivo’s case, he’ll turn to special teams assistant coach Chris Gould, whom Olivo called a “great football mind.” Gould’s familiarity with Denver’s key roster components — particularly kicker Brandon McManus and punter Riley Dixon — should prove invaluable as Olivo transitions from an assistant to the man in charge.

Olivo’s path has taken a more international route than Woods’. While he spent the previous three years in Kansas City under special teams coordinator Dave Toub and head coach Andy Reid, the Broncos’ new special teams leader also coached in the United Football League and in Italy’s most-competitive league.

“I’m going to teach the guys some Italian, and like I said there’s going to be no shortage of pastries,” joked Olivo about his experience with the Italian National Football Team. “Coaching overseas was an awesome experience [for] what it did for me. Imagine this: You’re coaching guys who learn [and] discovered football at the median age of 18 years old. So the learning curve is huge. Plus, you have to teach it to them in Italian. So you’re teaching [your game] in a foreign language ... and you have to try to implement all the little nuances that go with the game of American football.

“So what it taught me more than anything was patience in teaching. Patience. There’s a huge difference between teaching and learning.”

Woods, who was viewed as one of the top defensive coordinator candidates across the league, learned lessons of equal importance from former DC Wade Phillips. When the staff game planned for an upcoming opponent, Phillips would encourage Woods and his fellow position coaches to suggest potential plays. And whether Woods was prepping for third downs or red-zone scenarios, he felt empowered by Phillips to help construct the game plan.

Additionally, Phillips had his assistants address the defense, so Woods said he won’t struggle when he talks to the group as its leader. But perhaps the biggest help in Woods’ transition will be the continuation of the defensive scheme. Despite losing Phillips, Woods said the terminology will remain the same.

“We’re going to call everything the same,” Woods said. “We’re going to have the same adjustments. We’ll have a few tweaks along the way, but it’s just something we’re going to use to enhance what we’ve done the past two years.”

Should Woods replicate his last two years in Denver and Olivo his last ones in Kansas City, the Broncos will find success that leads them back to the postseason.

As first-time coordinators, there’s no better way to pass an initial test.