The team on Wednesday tapped the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator as its new head coach, the 17th in franchise history and the fourth hired by general manager John Elway. Fangio and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak were finalists for the position after Denver last week interviewed Chuck Pagano, Zac Taylor and Brian Flores.
Elway and his search committee (personnel director Matt Russell, administrator Mark Thewes, PR chief Patrick Smyth) met with Fangio in Chicago on Monday morning. Elway took Fangio to dinner before departing to Denver. The Broncos’ brain trust, including team president Joe Ellis, then deliberated Tuesday before reaching a decision.
According to reports, Fangio signed a four-year contract with a fifth-year option. An introductory press conference has been scheduled for Thursday.
A fantastic instructor and architect of the fearsome Bears defense — which finished the regular season tops in scoring and rushing, third in total yards, and seventh against the pass — Fangio is a football lifer who’s been nomading through the NFL for 33 years, from New Orleans to Carolina to Indianapolis to Houston to Baltimore to San Francisco.
And he’s absolutely beloved in each locale.
“I love playing for that guy,” Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said on Jan. 3. “I got a lot of respect for him, and so does the entire defense. I don’t even want to think about the possibility of him ever leaving, so I’m going to pretend nothing is going on.”
The knock on Fangio is his age (60) and inexperience under the big headset. He’s never seemed interested in leading an entire club and his hardened if not grouchy attitude rubs some the wrong way. He ruffled a few feathers last week by plainly admitting he’d done “zero” prep-work for his head-coaching interviews. The Miami Dolphins canceled their visit shortly before the Broncos’ sitdown.
Now that he took the leap, though, Fangio will find comfort in Denver’s 3-4 scheme, featuring linchpin pass-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and Pro Bowl (when healthy) cornerback Chris Harris Jr. Assuming his prickly personality coalesces with Elway’s ego, he’s a strong option to whip the underachieving squad into shape. There’s little question Fangio’s decorated resume appeals to The Duke’s desire for proven success.
“I want them to be great on one side of the ball and great at what they do—whatever that position that may be—whether it be a coordinator or whatever they’ve done,” Elway said in his season-ending press conference. “I look for greatness on that side. For me, I look for experience. I want the guys that understand the game, they understand Xs and Os but also have the ability to lead men. That’s a big part of it in today’s world. Those are two things that I look for, and there are guys we have feel for. I think there are a lot of things that go into a head coach that it’s a feel thing. We’re going to try to find that guy with that ‘it’ factor, that can make those right decisions and also lead men. We’re confident that we can find that guy.”
After putting pen to paper, Fangio will begin assembling his coaching staff. It’s unclear which still-under-contract assistants he’ll bring back. Elway denied interviews for holdovers from the Joseph regime until the successor was named. Expect Fangio to keep wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, running backs coach Curtis Modkins, offensive line coaches Chris Strausser and Sean Kugler, and assistant quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. On defense, renowned line coach Bill Kollar — the best in the business — will stick around.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Joe Woods are likely to be dismissed, though Woods may take a demotion as a positional coach. The Broncos’ defense ranked 22nd in yards, 21st against the run and 20th against the pass in 2018, hampered by personnel issues and Woods’ insistence on deploying zone coverage rather than man-press looks.
Former head coach and current front-office advisor Gary Kubiak is a candidate to replace Musgrave, while it’s possible that Fangio serves as his own defensive play-caller.