ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — All Vic Fangio ever wanted to do was teach kids and become a head high school football coach, and he figured he was on his way when his first job out of college was tutoring linebackers at his alma mater, Dunmore High School in Pennsylvania in 1979.
Fangio proved too good for preps and quickly moved on to the pros, where he’s spent 34 years as an assistant.
That includes 19 seasons as defensive coordinator, most recently for the Chicago Bears, where Khalil Mack lovingly labeled him an “evil genius ” just as Richard Sherman had tagged him a “stone-cold killer” during his year’s sabbatical at Stanford.
On Thursday, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway introduced his 60-year-old rookie head coach by calling Fangio “the perfect fit and exactly what we need.”
No, he’s not the young hotshot so many fans were pining for but a grizzled gridiron lifer Elway called the right man to modernize the teams’ admittedly antiquated schemes that have resulted in a three-year playoff drought since the franchise’s third Super Bowl win.
“I know the game in the NFL is changing, but I believe the things that football is all about is what Vic Fangio’s all about,” said Elway, who bypassed young up-and-coming candidates Brian Flores and Zac Taylor in his search to replace Vance Joseph.
“I believe football is still built from the ground up, and I think Vic is built from the ground up,” Elway said. “Now, what do I mean by that? Discipline. Accountability. He holds his team to high standards. Emphasis on teaching technique. Fundamentals. Blocking. Tackling.”
Those remain the best building blocks in the NFL, Elway insisted, even in this age of fuzzy-faced coaches copping college concepts like the RPOs and jet-sweeps and running up scores.
Acknowledging he saw some of his own father’s stern coaching traits in Fangio, Elway said he admired his new coach’s old-school philosophies about not cutting corners or tolerating tardiness, the little shortcuts that turn into tendencies that lead to a losing culture.
“I promise you,” Fangio told Elway, “we will not kill ourselves by inches.”
“I’m a fundamentals coach,” Fangio said. “I think the game of the NFL, everybody thinks has changed and it’s a high-scoring league, etc. But fundamentals are still what wins in this league. I’m going to stress those. We’re not going to cut any corners, there will be no death by inches.”
Fangio is going from tutoring Mack to coaching Von Miller, who teamed with rookie Bradley Chubb to form the league’s top pass-rushing duo in 2018 with a combined 26½ sacks.
“We’re going to try to take them both to bigger and better levels,” Fangio said. “I think Von Miller can play even better than he’s played in his career.”
Miller was among the more than dozen players who attended Fangio’s introductory news conference and afterward posted a photo on social media of him meeting his new coach with the message, “I heard you loud and clear. Excited to have you lead us, Coach Fangio!”
Fangio said he’ll call the defensive plays for Denver — after all, “They hired me because of my work on the defensive side of the ball,” he said.
Former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, who stepped down for health reasons two years ago, is expected to run Denver’s offense in 2019 after serving a year as the team’s senior personnel adviser.
“If Gary’s interested, then I’m interested,” Fangio said.
As for his plan at quarterback, Fangio said, “Right now, Case Keenum is our quarterback.”
“I’ve had the good fortune or misfortune — since I’m standing here, good fortune — of seeing him at the best in his career when he played for Minnesota last year, being in our division at the time,” Fangio said. “I know what he’s capable of and we’re going to try to get that out of him.”
Denver’s fourth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired, Keenum was unimpressive in his first season of a two-year, $36 million deal. If the Broncos move on to a rookie such as Drew Lock or a veteran such as Joe Flacco, they would owe Keenum $7 million but save $11 million.
Fangio said he didn’t need to do much prep work for his interview with Elway a day after the Bears’ stunning 16-15 wild-card loss to the Eagles on Sunday night. The loss ended an enchanting season in which Chicago led the league in overall defense and made the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
“Once the game was over, I went back to my office after a few hours of mourning and put together something to present to John and his guys,” said Fangio, who is now the sixth-oldest coach in the NFL. “It was easy for me because I didn’t have to make a fancy presentation. I just took the stuff that I use daily and yearly. I didn’t have to work too hard to do that.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s had a happy ending.”
Or, rather, a beginning.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)