ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Where Vic Fangio may have really sold himself to John Elway was at Maria's.
We’re talking authentic Sicilian food served at Maria’s Bakery in Highwood, near Chicago. Fangio had formally interviewed with Elway and the Broncos’ head coach search committee Monday morning, but a more informal dinner is where you really get to know a guy.
"I had my traditional rigatoni and meatball and marinara sauce," Fangio said about his late-afternoon Monday dinner with the Broncos’ general manager. "I think he went with the Bolognese."
On first impression, you have to wonder what the rest of the NFL missed with Fangio. Granted, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of a politician in the now-former Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator. This was immediately evident when he admitted he was wearing a Bears’ orange tie to his introductory press conference as the Broncos’ head coach Thursday. He'll have to work on that.
But Fangio is confident and straightforward. He has that Northeastern Pennsylvania humor and he’s smart, unflappable. You can tell he doesn’t like to waste much time with nonsense.
“It’s clear why players respond to this guy," Broncos’ president Joe Ellis said from his upstairs office at team headquarters following Fangio’s introductory press conference Thursday.
Yet, Fangio had been around doing the same thing for so long he had become labeled: A good coach. A really good defensive coordinator. Maybe even the league’s best defensive coordinator.
But not head coach material.
He’s officially a head coach now as his portrait has been stuck on the Coaches Corner wall at the Broncos’ UCHealth Training Center – one of 17 men who has held the job as Denver’s head coach.
“That label, if it did exist in some people’s mind, was because I had had a good career," Fangio said in a sit-down interview Wednesday with 9News. “I was getting up there (in age) and I hadn’t been a head coach. So, the fact is, it was kind of a correct label. We’ll see if actually he is a good head coach."
His label has been removed thanks to Elway who showed faith in a 60-year-old coach with Italian blood and 32 years of NFL coaching experience.
So how did Elway overcome the rap on Fangio as a great coach but maybe not a head coach?
“Talked to him," Elway said. “There’s a lot of pre-drawn conclusions about a lot of people and what difference of opinions of different guys."
Elway, a Stanford alum, had met Fangio in 2010 when Fangio was the Cardinal defensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh. And they’ve talked here and there at the NFL combine, and when Fangio’s Chicago Bears came out for a couple practices and a preseason game last summer.
“But I didn’t really know him," Elway said. “I respected what he did as a football coach and success he’s had. So that’s why I wanted to get him on the (candidate) list and get a chance to talk to him. And when you do that and spend time you realize he’s a very good man, he’s a very smart man who knows a lot about football. And that’s what he’s about is football."
Why did Fangio think he was able to finally erase his label and become a head coach?
“I think I fit what the Broncos were looking for, No. 1," he said. “And luckily in the last eight years, we’ve had defenses that were in the top 10. Had an excellent one this year. So, I think it’s an over-time achievement, had a great year this year, so everything kind of lined up."
The current state of the Broncos’ ownership – placed in the Pat Bowlen Trust that clearly favors daughter Brittany Bowlen as the future controlling owner but contested by brother Bill Bowlen and another daughter Beth Bowlen Wallace – did not concern Fangio.
“No, it didn’t bring pause at all," Fangio said. “I mean without even asking George McCaskey, another owner in the league, told me about it. John told me about it. Joe told me about it. All three conversations were verbatim the same."
If Fangio's wardrobe for his introductory press conference seemed on the casual side of business casual, there was a good reason for it. Turns out, Fangio wasn't a fan of the pants that came with the new suit he bought for the occassion.
The sport coat, shirt and light orange tie were fine. But to complete the ensemble, Broncos equipment manager Chris Valenti grabbed a pair of dress khakis from their spare wardrobe closet in the equipment room.
Broncos public relations boss Patrick Smyth took one look and thought some tailoring was needed. So Smyth summoned Valenti, who shortened the length with some standard safety pins.
Fangio went from interview to interview with his resourceful wardrobe. No wonder he kept bringing up how he prefers to wear sweats.
As the Broncos’ head coach, Fangio will probably have to wear a suit more in the next year than he has in his first 60 years of his life. There will be dinners, sponsorship events and appearances that were never required of defensive coordinators but are expected of the head coach.
“I hope not too often," Fangio said. “And if they’re dinners, I hope they’re Italian dinners."