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Broncos fire Fangio as head coach after three seasons

Despite mostly decent defensive play, Fangio's Broncos posted a three-year record of 19-30. GM George Paton to lead search for new head coach immediately.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Vic Fangio is out as Broncos head coach.

George Paton, who just finished his first season as the team’s general manager, began his second year Sunday by firing Fangio after three consecutive losing seasons.

Fangio, 63, was informed of his dismissal prior to 8 a.m. Sunday in a meeting with Broncos chief executive officer Joe Ellis and Paton. Fangio then met privately with John Elway, the GM who hired him prior to the 2019 season.

“For the last three seasons, Vic put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos,'' Ellis said in a statement. "I want to thank coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to our organization since the day he was hired.

“George will have full authority to select the next head coach of the Broncos. This is his decision and his program. I have complete confidence in George’s ability to lead an exhaustive and successful head coaching search.

“We will give George every available resource and fully support him in hiring the very best head coach to lead the Broncos.”

Fangio is considered one of the NFL’s best defensive coaches when Elway hired him away from the Chicago Bears following the 2018 season. Fangio received a four-year contract at an average of $5.5 million a year per source, and he is in line to receive his 2022 salary. While Fangio’s sterling defensive reputation remains intact, his first stint as head coach compiled seasons of 7-9 in 2019, 5-11 in 2020 and 7-10 in 2021.

The Broncos showed early promise in 2021 by winning their first three games against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets by a combined 50 points. It turned out to be fool’s gold as those three teams were all cellar dwellers this season. The Broncos also clobbered the 2-win Lions by 28 points but otherwise went 3-10 against the rest of the league.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio watches during the first half of his team's NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

There was public pressure from Broncos fans and media for the team to make a head coaching change and starting left tackle Dalton Risner for one was disappointed to see some of the reaction to his coach's dismissal.

“The  biggest thing for me is we’re all humans down here on earth,'' Risner said in a phone interview with 9NEWS. "And I think people forget in this job – and it’s OK. We know there’s a lot demanded of us. We know that as players and coaches in the NFL it stands for Not For Long. We have to be able to perform -- but at the same time we’re all humans and coach Fangio has a family.

"Coach Fangio has worked extremely hard to be where he’s at in his career. And it’s just sad to see some people kind of celebrating that. It kind of upset me.

"I have so much respect for coach Fangio. He’s a blue-collar guy, a gritty guy, and old-school football guy. I went from Mitchell Risner (dad) in high school (Wiggins), to Bill Snyder in college (Kansas State) to Vic Fangio at the professional level. Three blue-collar, gritty guys and that’s what I loved about coach Fangio. I loved how he got the most of his players.

"I love him. We’re going to be friends forever. He gave me a chance in 2019 when he drafted me in the second round. He had enough faith that I can be a part of this team and help this team. I’ll always be appreciative of him for that.”

After their 3-0 start, the Broncos suffered through a four-game losing streak. They were 5-4 following an unexpected rout of the Cowboys in Dallas but then lost the following week to the then-3-6 Eagles. The Broncos were 6-5 but lost by two scores at Kansas City. They were 7-6 but lost a close one at home to the Bengals.

And then they lost their last four games to seal Fangio’s fate. Inside the AFC West, the Broncos were 0-6 against the Chiefs, 1-5 against the Raiders and 4-2 against the Chargers in Fangio’s three seasons.

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His Denver defenses did perform well during his term, at least statistically. The Broncos were No. 1 in red zone defense in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons and they ranked in No. 3 in points allowed this year. But his 30 losses marked the highest three-year total by any Broncos’ coach.

“It was an honor and privilege to serve as head coach of the Denver Broncos,'' Fangio said in a statement. "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.”

Credit: Drew Litton

Whenever an NFL head coach is dismissed it usually follows that his top assistants also exit. While no other coach has been officially fired, the team is expected to move on from offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and special teams coordinator Tom McMahon. It would be a surprise to some if Fangio’s longtime defensive right-hand man, Ed Donatell, returns, although Donatell has a leng history with the team -- three different coaching stints -- and he told 9News he has a desire to stay on.

"Great respect for Vic,'' Donatell stated in a text. "We have 11 years together setting up defenses. Temendous background together, countless hours sharing ideas and formulating game plans.

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"Would love to stay and complete this Bronco mission!"

Shurmur was beat up on social media all year but in fairness, too many Broncos drives were halted by dropped passes. Teddy Bridgewater was a 4-11 quarterback with Carolina last year but he was 7-7 before he got hurt with the Broncos; 7-5 in games he finished.

It also became obvious late in the season that Drew Lock is a better quarterback now than he was when Shurmur took over prior to the 2020 season. And for all the complaints about the Broncos not running the ball enough, they had the league’s first running back duo in 10 years in Melvin Gordon (918) and Javonte Williams (903) to each rush for 900 yards.

In defense of McMahon, he was working with a 30 to 50 percent turnover in special teams personnel nearly every week. Still, the five combined touchdown returns off kickoffs and punts were the league’s most during Fangio’s three-year term.

The rest of the Broncos' assistant coaches were conducting exit interviews with plays Sunday morning. They are to meet individually with Paton over the next two days. 

The new head coach will likely have the authority to pick his own coaching staff. Some Broncos’ assistant coaches like defensive line coach Bill Kollar, receivers coach Zach Azzanni and defensive backs coach Christian Parker have another year or two left on their contracts and could be retained.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio before an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 to cap 2015 but since then have suffered through six consecutive seasons without a postseason berth and five straight seasons with a losing record. The team has struggled to find a franchise quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season and their next head coach will be the team's fifth in 9 seasons, following John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph and now Fangio.

"I have tremendous respect for Vic and all he’s accomplished in the NFL,'' Paton said in a statement. "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.

"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.”

Sources told 9NEWS that firing Fangio wasn’t as easy for Paton as it might have been for many Broncos fans. Paton thought long and hard in recent weeks about retaining Fangio for his defensive prowess and addressing the lackluster offense and special teams by making changes to the offensive and special teams staff and upgrading the quarterback position. But in the end, Paton thought it best to start fresh by overhauling his coaching staff starting with the man on top.

Among the head coaching candidates the Broncos may consider are former Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson, current Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to name a few. There have also been reports that the University of Michigan and former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh would also listen to NFL teams with head coach vacancies.

The Broncos must also interview at least two minority head coaching candidates as set by the expanded Rooney Rule. Offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and linebackers coach Jerod Mayo are some of the top minority candidates.

RELATED: List of 9 candidates for Broncos vacant head coach position

The expectation is the Broncos’ search for a new head coach will take roughly two weeks before the new hire is made.

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