DENVER — Vic Fangio arrived in Denver three years ago and solidified the defense.
However, zero playoff berths, a final month swoon and awful showing in the AFC West made it impossible to defend his coaching record.
Sunday, general manager George Paton fired Fangio following his third straight losing season.
Fangio posted a 19-30 record and had one year remaining on his contract. The Broncos fans expressed their disappointment with a season-high 14,571 no-shows.
“I have tremendous respect for Vic and all he’s accomplished in the NFL. Over the past year, I appreciate his partnership, friendship and the tireless work-ethic he demonstrated as our head coach. Vic will continue to have great success in this league, and I thank him for everything he did for the Broncos as well as me personally," Paton said.
“Looking ahead, there’s a lot of work to be done for us to take the next step. Winning is not easy, and we’re going to embrace the opportunity to improve in every single area of our operation. Our search to find the next head coach of the Broncos will be a comprehensive, collaborative process. We’re approaching it with an open mind and look forward to spending time with some outstanding candidates. With the foundation in place, the progress that’s been made and the resources we have to get better, I’m excited about the future of our team. We will find an outstanding leader and head coach for the Broncos and our fans.”
Fangio, 63, is the first Broncos coach to average 10 losses per season, yet it was a difficult decision for Paton because of his strong working relationship with Fangio. Fangio talked with Paton last week, acknowledging changes were necessary on offense and special teams. While his defense remained stout statistically, ranking in the top 5 for most of the season in points allowed, the overall numbers worked against Fangio.
"Our search to find the next head coach of the Broncos will be a comprehensive, collaborative process. We’re approaching it with an open mind and look forward to spending time with some outstanding candidates,” CEO Joe Ellis said.
He finished in last place in the AFC West in back-to-back seasons, going 5-13 overall in the division and 1-11 against the Chiefs and Raiders during his tenure. Since the NFL merger in 1970, the worst winning percentages of an AFC West coach against the division are the Chargers’ Kevin Gilbride (1-9, .100), the Raiders’ Dennis Allen (3-9, .250) and Fangio (5-13, .278).
“It was an honor and privilege to serve as Head Coach of the Denver Broncos. I want to thank John Elway and Joe Ellis for giving me the opportunity to be part of this storied franchise and special community when they hired me three seasons ago. Over the past year, I am grateful to have been able to work with George Paton, one of — in my opinion — our league’s best general managers. Broncos fans, you have a great one in George.
“To the players, coaches and staff: Thank you for the fight and character you showed each and every week. No matter the adversity, circumstances or challenges we faced, you never backed down. I am proud to be associated with this group of fighters and competitors. I appreciate you all. To Broncos fans: Thank you for your support, passion and how much you care about the Broncos. You are the reason Denver is one of the NFL’s best football towns.
“The foundation is in place for this team to accomplish great things. The future is bright for the Denver Broncos, and I wish the organization nothing but the best.”
Fangio is expected to land a defensive coordinator's job quickly.
With a 28-34 loss Saturday, Fangio remained winless against Kansas City as part of the Broncos’ 13-game losing skid to the division winners. His team was also 1-23 when trailing halftime.
The Broncos will look to move quickly for their next coach with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who worked with Paton in Miamia years ago, former Eagles boss Doug Pederson, Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Cowboys offensive boss Kellen Moore, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich gaining traction as the top candidates in this cycle.
This represents the first time coaching hire by Paton. He inherited Fangio last January, and built a roster to give him a chance to stick.
The lack of offensive production, underwhelming quarterback play and weekly special teams disasters doomed Fangio. After his first season, when he was called out by quarterback Joe Flacco for his conservative strategy, Fangio dismissed offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. The pair could not get along, traced to issues on both sides. Fangio cited a need for a more explosive, vertical passing attack guided by a veteran coach when making the change.
The results never materialized under Pat Shurmur, who has been fired as well. The Broncos averaged 20.2 points in 2020 with Drew Lock as the primary quarterback, ranking 28th, and were worse this season with Teddy Bridgewater, averaging 19.6 points while receivers Courtland Sutton (20 catches, no touchdowns over the last 10 games) and Jerry Jeudy (no touchdowns this season in 10 games) disappeared as scoring threats.
Fangio remained loyal to Shurmur, and never forced meaningful changes to an attack built around the ground game to control time of possession. McMahon’s special teams went from bad to embarrassment this season, allowing a pair of 100-yard-plus kickoff returns for touchdowns, while allowing a blocked field goal, two blocked punts and had multiple muffed punts.
In the end, the Broncos required a change, not unlike when Paton was hired to energize the front office last January. He has done strong work in his first season, landing productive draft choices Pat Surtain II, Javonte Williams, Quinn Meinerz, Baron Browning, Caden Sterns and Jonathon Cooper.
Whatever direction the Broncos go for their next coach, they must address the quarterback position in a meaningful way either through trade or the draft and hire a dynamic offensive coordinator.
The possibilities at quarterback, even if remote, include Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins. The Broncos expressed strong interest in Rodgers a year ago, but Green Bay was unwilling to move him. And Denver also made a strong play for Matthew Stafford until the Rams made an overwhelming offer to land him.
This is not considered a strong draft for quarterbacks, though the possible first-round candidates include Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Nevada’s Carson Strong.
The Broncos are looking for a reboot. They are the first team in NFL history to miss the playoffs in sixth consecutive seasons after winning a Super Bowl. They have posted five consecutive losing seasons, their worst stretch since the drought of 1963-72.
The team also faces ownership uncertainty. Once a right-of-first-refusal lawsuit filed by former owner Edgar Kaiser’s family is resolved, the expectation remains the team will be sold this offseason, and it could happen quickly. However, it’s unlikely to approved before the owners meetings in March, meaning Paton will have to address the coaching staff well before this time and he has the authority to do so.
For Paton, moving on from Fangio wasn’t easy because of their relationship, but it ultimately came down to results.