DENVER – Vic Fangio began a new life as a head coach by promising the Broncos will not suffer "a death by inches."
Fangio used this expression in his sitdown dinner with general manager John Elway on Monday outside of Chicago. The defining moment convinced Elway the 60-year-old was the right man at the right time for a franchise that's been going the wrong direction for three years.
After 32 years in the NFL, including 19 as a defensive coordinator, Fangio brings attention to detail, discipline and a teaching background as he attempts to revive the Broncos.
"Basically, I’ve never fit the profile of what certain teams were looking for," said Fangio, who first interviewed for a head coaching job in 1996 with the San Diego Chargers. "Fortunately I matched the profile of what John (Elway) was looking for. It's been a whirlwind with a happy ending."
In Fangio, Elway found experience, an old football soul whom he admitted reminded him of his late father Jack, a longtime coach and scout. Small focus can crystallize the big picture from Elway's perspective.
"When we met, he talked about the little things, the attention to detail, the way he coached. I just loved his basic attention to detail and how he goes about it," Elway said. "That's the basis of what football is all about. We don't draft the All-Pros. You have to develop them. One thing that always stood out when my dad talked about coaching, and what I heard from Vic, is that he talked about teaching. That's what it is. It's about teaching them the right things to do and teaching them the fundamentals. It's not about the glitz and the glamour, and what somebody does on the offensive side. I think it's about getting the foundation right. That's our fit. All the other coaches that got hired were great coaches, but what was best for us is that we needed to start from the ground again and build up."
Fangio doesn't suffer fools well. Death by inches, he explained, is simple. As he began to articulate it Thursday during a one-on-one interview with Denver7, a knocking emerged from the adjacent room. Fangio blurted, "That's death by inches right there. ... It just means little things being overlooked, and not corrected. In and of itself that act is not that harmful, but it will fester and become a forest fire if you allow it to."
Fangio declined to talk about his coaching staff as he continues to evaluate his options. Former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will be on board in some capacity, either as offensive coordinator or in a role involving the offense. Part of the reason the Broncos did not want to confirm Kubiak's return is because Thursday was about Fangio. This was a moment three decades in the making.
There was thought he might not win the press conference, but who cares if you win games, right? In fact, Fangio, a huge baseball fan, hit a home run with his authenticity. If you like meat and potatoes, you will like Fangio.
"He reminds me of Wade (Phillips)," All-Pro linebacker Von Miller told Denver7, who received intel about Fangio from Bears linebackers Danny Trevathan and Khalil Mack. "I like what I heard. I am ready to go. I am ready to be coached by him."
Fangio will run the defense for the Broncos. It makes sense. His Bears unit ranked ranked first in takeaways, interceptions, three-and-out drives, and red zone takeaways and second in sacks. The Bears' defense also drew the second fewest penalties. Defensive lineman Shelby Harris told Denver7, "that discipline is what this team needs. You look at games where we made mistakes, and we could have been 10-6."
Fangio has a knack for making complex ideas and schemes simple, freeing his defenders to play fast.
"I will continue to call the defense. I hope what the (fans') comments are about watching us play is that they are seeing a team that's playing hard, tough, physical and smart," Fangio told Denver7. "I would hope that's what they say after watching us for a few times."
The message resonated with players. Nearly a dozen attended the presser, among them longtime defensive end Derek Wolfe.
"I think he's exactly the type of coach this team needs," Wolfe said. "I couldn't be more excited about potential this team has. If we play cleaner, more disciplined football I think we we win a lot more of those close games"
Fangio is not a self-promoter and declined to have an agent working behind the scenes as his reputation grew as a coordinator. Elway and Fangio connected, leading to an opportunity Fangio wasn't certain he would ever receive.
"I had a good feeling after meeting with John that him and I could be a good fit together. That's No. 1. You always have to a good relationship with the general manager. Not that we are always going to agree on everything, but you have to form a bond where you are joined at the hip in all decisions," Fangio said. "I like the tradition and history of the Broncos and what Pat Bowlen established here and I would like to get us back to that point."
Elway is not rebuilding mode. His hiring of Fangio only hardened his resolve. The climb back to relevance began Thursday. One inch at a time.
"Win. That's our job," said Elway when asked for expectations for Fangio and the Broncos next season. "We want to get this thing back on track and play disciplined football. But win, that's the bottom line."