Mickey Joseph took the podium during his first post-game press conference and claimed responsibility for what just happened. Flanked by weights and lifting machines, in the cathedral of Nebraska football, the interim head coach said “it’s on me.”
Every player who followed him to the podium disagreed. The loss to No. 6 Oklahoma reflected on those who played, they said.
Even after a reflective weekend the head coach identified possible improvements. Things he’d do differently if given the chance. He could have slowed the game down. He could have worked more individual drills, rather than team drills, in practice.
Joseph seized Nebraska’s reins to give Nebraska a chance to win. Some saw the former Husker’s approach as a steady hand of leadership among uncertainty. Those closer to the head coach knew that was just a part of his genetic code.
“He’s a stand-up man, but also he’s a quarterback,” Derek Joseph, Mickey’s cousin, said. “That’s what quarterbacks do.”
They come from the same football family. Mickey was first, then came younger brother Vance, now defensive coordinator at the Arizona Cardinals, and youngest Sammy, a strength and conditioning coach at Memphis. Between Vance and Sammy are cousins Terry, now secondary coach at Texas, and Derek, an athletic trainer in New Orleans. They all traced each other’s steps at the same New Orleans high school.
In total, 15 years separate the oldest (Mickey) from the youngest (Sammy). That gap narrowed as each entered their professional realms. Football, of course, bridged the gap more than anything.
“People say we’re cousins,” Derek said, “but we’re all brothers.”
Mickey taking responsibility for Nebraska’s loss reminded Derek of a time Vance coached Terry.
“When you win it’s on you and even when you lose it’s on you,” Vance told him. “You’ve got to fix it.”
Derek took that advice to heart. While Terry grew up a receiver and an exception baseball player and Sammy did his own thing on defense, he was a quarterback, just like Mickey and Vance. So, naturally, he wanted to be the best. He’d seek his older cousins’ advice because he counted on them to build him into the best. They taught him hard work, dedication and setting goals.
That mentorship has followed into adulthood and it often emerges in the family group chat. It’s just one component of being a football family.
“For us it’s pretty normal. That’s just who we are,” Sammy said. “It’s fun. But for us we’ve been a part of this game for so long it’s normal and it just makes sense.”
With advice comes steadiness. Mickey said as much in his introductory press conference on Sept. 13. He first referenced Vance, the quarterback who played at Colorado and read defenses. That knowledge emboldened his career. He eventually became head coach for the Denver Broncos and is now an NFL defensive coordinator. When Mickey needs that insight he merely slips it into conversation.
“We talk every day, we all are really tight. We don’t have too many friends in this industry. We have each other,” Mickey said. “I can lean on them, because one thing they’re going to do, is they’re going to be truthful, with what they tell me and I respect their opinion.”
Sometimes that truth is criticism. A writer asked Mickey if his regretful decisions against Oklahoma were indicators of bad coaching. If that’s what they want to say. It’s what his mom told him, he smiled. Sometimes the group chat is for game planning. Terry reached out to Sammy for scouting info on UTSA because Memphis played the Roadrunners last year. Texas beat UTSA 41-20 on Sept. 16.
Inevitably, the post-game talks are honest assessments with encouragement. It’s the same after Nebraska games with Mickey as it is with Vance and the Cardinals, Terry at Texas or Sammy at Memphis. Good luck texts precede games. Their parents watch a full slate of familial college football while the cousins, bonded like brothers, rely on assistance. Like when Mickey and Nebraska kicked off at 11 a.m. when Sammy and Memphis prepared for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
“From my view, I had meetings so I’d hear from the equipment guys about what’s happening,” Sammy said. “The equipment guys help me out a lot. I get my information through that.”
It’s fun. That’s what football should be and that’s what the Joseph family tries to remind each other. Whether it’s after Texas’s close loss to Alabama for Terry, a loss to Mississippi State for Sammy, the Cardinals’ opening loss to the Chiefs or Nebraska’s loss to No. 6 Oklahoma. But they’re all also aware this is a business. Coaches hop across the country, fired and hired, based on results.
That’s where Mickey finds himself — left to steer the ship in the middle of his alma mater’s search for a new head coach. Regardless of results on the field or what happens at the end of the season, he’ll always have the family. And they’ll always have football.
“Throughout the season, I’ll be honest with you, we talk more, become closer, talk a lot more often because we want to make sure we keep each other grounded and keep each other in a good mindset before the game whether we’re winning or losing,” Sammy said. “This business is so unpredictable, right. It changes so fast. We’re blessed to have each other in this business.”