DENVER — Vic Fangio sat down for the coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings Tuesday morning and made himself comfortable. Decades as a coordinator made it easy to see he belonged in the room. He has earned the right to lead a franchise. Now comes the hard part: turning around the Denver Broncos.
Fangio inherits a team that owns consecutive double-figure losing seasons for the first time since 1967. The Broncos have failed to advance to the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50. Into this backdrop walks Fangio, a matter-of-fact personality who deals in details, and relishes teaching to create discipline and success.
What Fangio preaches won't end up on a T-shirt. It will be ingrained into the players' heads. He wants a smart, versatile team. The plan is sound, but it requires players.
Fangio expressed confidence in veteran Joe Flacco, admitting quarterback is the most difficult position in "all of sports." And he insisted he has better pieces on both sides of the ball than when he arrived in Chicago in 2015. The Bears made a breathtaking turnaround, emerging from the ashes to win a division title last season, a run that turned Fangio into a first-time head coach. A look at the highlights from Fangio's sitdown with reporters as transcribed by the Broncos:
Renck analysis: The Broncos acquired Flacco this offseason and shipped out Case Keenum after he was deemed a one-year wonder. Flacco owns 10 playoff wins, including a NFL-record seven on the road. However, he hasn't advanced to the postseason since 2014, the last time he posted at least 20 touchdown passes.
Fangio on how much 34-year-old Joe Flacco has left, and his relationship with the quarterback:
"I was obviously in Baltimore his first two years in the league and got to know him some there. Then obviously coaching against him. I haven’t coached against him a ton. Obviously the Super Bowl, and then we played Baltimore once while I was in Chicago. I think I’ve only coached against Joe three or four times total, but I like Joe. I think Joe’s a good football player, a good quarterback, has been productive, has been a winner. I like his personality. ... I think there's a lot left with Joe. I think he’s got a body that can last a long time. He throws the ball with ease, meaning it’s just natural. There’s not a lot of torque, so I think his arm strength has not wavered one bit since he came into the league. And he’s hungry. Joe wants to do well. I think a lot of players, they lose their stinger before they lose their talent, and Joe’s stinger is still sharp.”
Renck analysis: Fangio trusts his eyes. He believes in giving players a chance to prove themselves.
On Fangio’s evaluation of his current roster:
"I surprised (general manager) John (Elway) when I said it, and it’s held true -- I have watched very little of the Denver Broncos from the 2018 season. Very little. I bet you under 150 plays. The only guys I’ve watched are the guys we’ve had to make decisions on. If the guy’s on our roster and he’s going to be on our roster, I want to form my own opinion. I don’t want to watch other stuff.”
Renck analysis: Fangio is no stranger to construction projects. He worked with the expansion Houston Texans, and Chicago was 5-11 before he joined John Fox as the defensive coordinator.
On how the talent compares to when he arrived in Chicago in 2015:
"I think so at certain places. I think offensively, we have a chance to be better than people think we do. I think the players are better on offense than the perception was when I first got there. (Defensively,) It’s in a better spot that when we first took over Chicago, that’s for sure. We have good players on our edge in (Bradley) Chubb and Von Miller, obviously. We have a safety we like in (Justin) Simmons. We still have Chris Harris Jr., who’s a good corner/nickel back. And we’ve been able to add a couple guys through free agency.
Renck analysis: The Broncos offense has issues. Denver averaged 20.6 points per game last season, ranking 24th. They averaged 18.1 in 2017, ranking 27th. The offensive line remains a question mark. While the running game has been acceptable, the pass blocking has not. Enter respected offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who finished second to Fangio for the Broncos coaching job.
On the importance of adding Mike Munchak to the coaching staff:
“I think if you can hire a guy of Mike’s quality at any position, let alone offensive line, you’re better off for it. Mike’s a great coach and has proven that over the years with his work with the offensive line where ever he’s been. Whether it be Tennessee or Pittsburgh. The stars just aligned. Mike was available, he was no longer under contract with Pittsburgh, we were looking for an offensive line coach, Mike had already known some things about the Denver situation having looked at that. And Mike and I are from the same hometown. Mike and I grew up about two and a half miles apart. We didn’t know each other. We went to different high schools, but we played against each other and knew of each other, but weren’t highly friendly. We knew each other and would say ‘Hello’ over the years when our paths would cross. The ultimate thing is that Mike’s daughter lives in Denver and so I think I can say it was 80 percent his daughter got him to come to Denver and 20 percent we got him to come to the Broncos. We’re thrilled to have Mike."
Renck analysis: The Broncos will look to first-time coordinator Rich Scangarello to caffeinate the offense. He comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. Fangio's expertise lies on defense. That, however, has provided him insight on how he wants the Broncos to look.
On working with Scangarello on the offense:
"We’ve already been communicating. I tell him things I want to see in the offense, how we’re going handle situations that come up in the game because most of your game-day situations stuff, 90 percent involves when you have the ball, when you’re on offense. ... I think from defending NFL offenses for 30-some-odd years, you have a feel about what is good and what isn’t, what is hard to defend and what isn’t, what could be hard to defend and what isn’t. I think I would be remiss if I don’t relay that to our guys. Also, you have to have a plan as a team of how you’re going to win a game. You can’t just be like, ‘OK, you guys go over there and score as many points and get as many yards as you can. We’ll go over here and try and stop them.’ We have to have a common way that we are going to win the game, not just win the stat pile. That is a big part of it.”
Renck analysis: The Broncos own the 10th pick in the upcoming draft. They could go in multiple directions. They haven't ruled out taking a quarterback, and will host Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones. Perception is critical. Even if the Broncos don't prefer to take a quarterback, creating the possibility they will could help if another team like Miami or Washington wants to move up in the selection process.
On his role in studying the quarterbacks:
“Absolutely. The first thing I said to a lot of coaches, I said, ‘Now I get to evaluate quarterbacks and I won’t make the same mistakes some of you offensive coaches have made over the years (laughing).’”