ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There have been dozens if not hundreds of very good football coaches who weren’t so hot as head coaches.
Wade Phillips admitted he was one. Phil Bengston and Mike Nolan were others. Marty Mornhinweg, Josh McDaniels, Rod Marinelli and now Adam Gase fall into this category.
Vic Fangio coached 32 years in the NFL as an assistant, establishing himself as one of the league’s top defensive coordinators for better than 20 years before he finally got a chance to be the head man, at 61 years old.
It’s simply too early to say Fangio belongs in the aforementioned group. When he joined the Broncos two years ago, it’s not like he inherited John Elway in his prime at quarterback. Instead, he got Elway who had lost his golden touch as general manager, especially in his quest to find a quality, long-term quarterback to succeed Peyton Manning.
So while Fangio deserves more time, he also better hurry. Fair or not, head coaches are only judged on their won-loss records and the Broncos were 7-9 and 5-11 the past two years. In each of those two seasons, the Broncos were winless through the first month of September. Which leads to the next topic in our 9News series of 9 questions the Broncos must answer as they welcome rookies and quarterbacks to training camp Saturday:
3. Can coach Fangio push the right buttons this season, especially early?
Issue: The Broncos started 0-4 in Fangio’s first season of 2019 and 0-3 last year. Which is surprising because it says here Fangio has it what takes to prepare his team to play each week at optimum performance. He has a presence and football intelligence about him that draws respect from his players – who through all the tough times the past two years have always played hard and usually gave superior opponents a competitive game.
He has longer, and more physical practices than his head coaching predecessors – and this approach has helped the Broncos maintain mental toughness even through the season’s final weeks when there was little in the way of postseason hopes to play for.
But there’s been so much losing around the Broncos the previous four years – both in the two years before Fangio and two years since – that he may need immediate positive results this season for his players to truly believe in his methods.
Background: To show how good Fangio is as a defensive coordinator, at least three other teams – the Rams, Chargers and Bears – hired defensive coordinators the past two years who had coached under Fangio. He’s come up with some masterful game plans to slow some of the NFL’s high-powered offenses the past two years. But as head coach, Fangio knows he is judged by the Broncos’ overall record. His game management has been criticized but he does seem to be getting a better feel with experience. Head coaching experience, that is.
Resolution: The NFL schedule makers seemed to be aware of the Broncos’ early struggles the past two seasons and granted them mercy. The Broncos first three games are against the New York Giants, who finished 6-10 last year, 1-15 Jacksonville and the 2-14 New York Jets. Even if the opener against the Giants in New Jersey will be difficult, Fangio could use no worse than a 2-1 start.