DENVER — It can’t be easy for George Paton to consider firing Vic Fangio when Fangio was part of the general manager search committee that hired him.
There were five highly qualified candidates interviewing for the Broncos’ GM position about this time last year and Fangio let it be known Paton was his preferred choice.
Fangio’s influence obviously didn’t hurt. During his 14-year term as the top football personnel assistant for the Minnesota Vikings, Paton had other GM opportunities he turned down. One reason why he finally made the leap to Denver’s big chair was Fangio's place as head coach.
Yet, Fangio’s fate Paton has been forced to consider.
Sources tell 9NEWS that Paton, a deliberate, methodical and collaborative decision maker, has met with Fangio to discuss the coach’s ideas on how to change things for 2022, and what to keep on, keeping on. It wasn’t a grand summit or anything, but a conversation.
Sources also say Paton has met with Broncos’ outgoing CEO Joe Ellis and football operations consultant John Elway, who held the GM position for 10 years until deciding to accept the less-stressful role he has now.
Fangio has not shied from admitting he understands his job status is a talk of widespread conversation. But he's not conceding. Sources tell 9News he and his coaching staff have put full attention on beating the Chiefs this week -- as they do every week with every opponent -- with nary a word about whether this may be their last game together.
Bottom-line results are working against Fangio. The Broncos went 7-9, 5-11 and, entering the final game of the 2021 season today against the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs, 7-9 in his three years as head coach. Vance Joseph got two losing seasons as head coach before he was fired. Fangio should get a fourth season after three losing records?
Maybe. Maybe not likely, but maybe. There are extenuating circumstances that could help save Fangio’s job through the fourth and final season of his contract. That Paton, a decent man with a conscious even if a ruthless competitive streak does occasionally rear itself, got the GM job at least partially from Fangio’s influence could be one. A bigger factor, though, is Paton and Fangio have developed a strong working relationship through their first season together. Paton is a football personnel lifer who loves the grind. Fangio, a football coaching lifer who shares a similar work ethic, is Paton’s kind of guy.
Paton is often the first employee to arrive at Broncos’ headquarters each day. Fangio is often the last to leave.
The process of building a winner is there. A strong defense built by Fangio over the past three seasons is there. Maybe if Fangio stays, but several of his assistant coaches are replaced – offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and special teams coordinator Tom McMahon have been the primary subjects of Broncos Country’s discontent – and the team somehow, some way acquires a top 10-caliber veteran quarterback in the offseason, the Broncos would be better off.
That’s one option.
Paton also hasn’t endured six years of futility with the Broncos as have nearly all the team’s fans and media. He’s only been here for one losing season and progress was evident at various times through the season. They whipped three cupcakes (Giants, Jaguars, Jets) to start the season 3-0, then entered the meat of their schedule.
Came out of it 3-4. The team was 5-4 going into a home game against the Eagles.
Got run over. The Broncos were 6-5 going into Kansas City.
Lost by plenty. They were 7-6 going into a home game against the Bengals.
Lost a tough one after they fumbled away a goal-to-go opportunity late.
All games matter in an NFL season (except, in the Broncos' case today, game 17) but losing the games that really, really mattered may tilt Paton toward the other option: Starting over with a new head coach, who would then have major imput on the assistant coaches he wants to bring in, and keep.
Fangio coached up some nice upset wins at Dallas and home against the Chargers. But if he stays can he win games that would put the Broncos into serious playoff contention, much less the postseason?
Paton figures to sleep on it tonight regardless of the outcome of today’s game against the Chiefs. He figures to talk with Ellis in the morning, maybe Elway, too. A decision could come Sunday morning, although Paton may even take all of Sunday to consider and then make up his mind by Monday morning.
Can't any longer than Monday. If a change is made it will be time to jump on setting up head coach interviews.
The widespread belief among NFL fans, media and agents outside Broncos headquarters is Paton will change his head coach. But that belief is not based on conversations with the man Fangio helped hire a year ago.
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