Carney Column: Denver Broncos nab the right man for the job in Vic Fangio
In an age when NFL teams are going younger and younger at head coach, the Denver Broncos went in the opposite direction to hire Vic Fangio as the 17th head coach in Broncos history. The hot new thing on the block for NFL franchises was young, eccentric offensive minds. Instead of following in that path, John Elway called an audible and hired a 60-year-old defensive-minded head coach to try and right the ship.
By zagging when everybody zigged, Elway made the right call hiring Fangio.
After at least five years of head coaching buzz and not a single job offer, the Broncos became the franchise to pull the trigger on Fangio, potentially hitting a home run with their next head coach.
As the defensive coordinator in Chicago, Fangio saw his defensive unit go from the 18th ranked defense in the league when he got there in 2015 to the 3rd ranked defense in football last season, recording 50 sacks and 28 forced turnovers (14 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles). Prior to his hiring Wednesday, Fangio had never been a head coach at any level of football. Some could see that as a major problem, but he’s a guy who has cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator in the NFL for a total of 19 years, ranging from 1995 in Carolina to 2018 in Chicago, adding in another 13 years as a position coach in the NFL and one year as a position coach in the USFL with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars.
He’s as experienced and as qualified as they come in today’s game, and Elway made the right call choosing Fangio over Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, the current offensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the former head coach of the Tennessee Titans from 2011-13.
Despite having no head coaching experience, Fangio gets a good, clean start with the Broncos, who have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. It’s not as if he’s taking over a disaster of a franchise like, say, the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s taking over a team that should have made the playoffs last season despite a rash of injuries to key players. A lot of the failure in 2018 with the Broncos came from coaching decisions, whether those decisions were in-game failures, or game-plan failures. Don’t expect any of that with Fangio. He’s been around the game far too long, and has had his finger prints all over some of the best units in football over the years. He’s as prepared as they come, and the Broncos are lucky that he was available and interested in the job.
Current Bears All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack summed Fangio up best after news of his hiring in Denver broke. Mack told reporters that Fangio is an “evil genius” who relates well to his players and geniunely cares about them and is a real personable dude off the field. That’s not to say Vance Joseph wasn’t a personable guy or genuinely cared about his guys, but Fangio has this aura around him, and now the Broncos get to experience that and try to get back on track.
Now comes the fun part for Fangio and the Broncos. How will the rest of the coaching staff shake up? From the looks of it, it appears as though Elway will have a major say in who Fangio brings in as assistants. Gary Kubiak is back to run the offense, while Fangio is reportedly bringing 61-year-old Ed Donatell to be his defensive coordinator. Donatell and Fangio first linked up in San Francisco during the 2011 season when Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator, and Donatell was the defensive backs coach. Donatell then followed Fangio to Chicago after the 2014 season, and is now expected to follow him to Denver, which would be the third stint with the Broncos. From 1995-99 Donatell was the secondary coach, before then returning in 2010 in the same role.
There are reports that Fangio will let Kubiak run the entire offense, almost as if the pair will split head coaching duties with Kubiak focusing on the offense, and Fangio focusing on the defense. That’s all find and well, but the buck has to start and stop with Fangio from Day One. Kubiak needs to know that and not try to wrestle power away from Fangio; nor should he try and turn the tide in the locker room towards him, considering there are a number of players still on the roster from Denver’s 2015 Super Bowl championship team, such as Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, Emmanuel Sanders (expected to return in free agency), Brandon McManus, Darian Stewart, and Todd Davis, just to name a few.
If Kubiak stays in the shadows and fixes an offense that struggled mightily with turnovers and protection of Case Keenum, and Fangio and Donatell get the defense back on track, this Broncos team is ridiculously scary.
With his back against the wall and pressure mounting against him to fix this team starting with the head coach hiring, Elway made the best possible decision, hiring a guy in Fangio who for far too long as been on the outside of the head coaching circle looking in. Now, as the NFL goes one way, the Broncos took the road less traveled and might have hired a gem of a head coach to lead this franchise back to relevance.
Josh Carney is the sports editor at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Disagree with his assessment of the Fangio hire? Shoot him an email: email@example.com