The Broncos are the last team in the NFL that believes defense wins championships. Denver hired Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to be its next head coach Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano report. If we know one thing about Vic Fangio, it’s that he is not the next Sean McVay (though he does know McVay, a requirement for being hired in 2019). In a hiring cycle that has focused on finding young, offensive-minded coaches, Fangio possesses neither of those qualities. It might be an excellent move anyway.
Fangio, 60, has been an NFL defensive coordinator for 19 of the past 24 seasons. To put that in perspective, that’s more years than McVay, Packers coach Matt LaFleur, and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury have in the NFL, in any capacity, combined. Considering the Broncos’ other candidate was Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who has also been an NFL coach for more than two decades and was a head coach in Tennessee for three years, it’s clear that Broncos president of football operations John Elway was looking for an experienced coach to replace Vance Joseph, whom Elway hired after just one season as Dolphins defensive coordinator.
There are no questions about Fangio’s credentials. In Carolina, he coordinated a unit that finished second in points allowed in 1996, the team’s second year of existence. In his first year as 49ers defensive coordinator in 2011, the team had the same ranking. This year he orchestrated a Bears defense that was the league’s best by almost every metric and became interwoven with the fabric of the Bears’ defensive legacy. He is widely considered to be among the best defensive minds in the game. He certainly has the respect of his players in Chicago, and the team will have a tough time replacing him.
Bears CB Prince Amukamara on #Broncos hiring Vic Fangio: "Oh, man, they’re going to get a leader and they’re going to get somebody who cares for them. They already have a history of having a great defense. All of that will be enhanced with Vic."— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) January 9, 2019
But this will be Fangio’s first go as a head coach, which is entirely different than being a coordinator. It will be fascinating to watch what Fangio does with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, who combined for 26.5 sacks and 122 quarterback pressures this season and were perhaps the best pass-rush duo in the NFL. Like any head coach’s, a major part of Fangio’s success will rest on whom he hires to run things on the other side of the ball. (Perhaps McVay’s greatest move as head coach was convincing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to come to Los Angeles.) Fangio will need a solid offensive coordinator, but turning around Denver’s offense won’t be an easy task. Quarterback Case Keenum is entering a contract year, and 31-year-old receiver Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his Achilles in December.
Elway actively avoids using the word “rebuild,” preferring “retool.” With Fangio, the Broncos are betting on a defensive head coach, but also on an experienced one. It might seem out of style in the NFL, but hiring one of the league’s most seasoned defensive minds to counter the wave of young blood on offense may seem prescient in the not-so-distant future.