On Sunday, the Broncos and Vic Fangio parted ways after three seasons. The 63-year-old longtime defensive coordinator failed to compile a winning record in any of his three seasons. The Broncos started this year 3–0 before struggling through the thorniest part of a very difficult schedule, and have now four double-dight-loss seasons in their last five, after having just three in their previous 49 campaigns.
Fangio is an interesting coach in that he will still dictate the interview market even if he’s not a head coach in 2022. Widely regarded as the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, Fangio’s decision to latch onto another developing staff could very well make or break the candidacy of a coach elsewhere. While it’s never enjoyable to lose a head coaching job, Fangio may be more popular than ever as a coordinator at a time when his oft-copied but poorly imitated defense is spreading throughout the NFL.
Despite being pummeled by injury and trading Von Miller, Denver still finished the season as one of the league’s best overall defenses, allowing 18.9 points per game, third-best in the league heading into the Week 18 Sunday slate.
WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
The difficult part about summarizing the Fangio era is that his biggest downfall had nothing to do with Fangio himself. The Broncos never supplied Fangio with a quarterback, setting him up to fail similarly to his predecessor, Vance Joseph, who is also having a renaissance season as a coordinator in Arizona.
The Broncos went on a miniature run with Drew Lock at the end of Fangio’s first season, but the replacement of coordinator Rich Scangarello with fired Giants head coach Pat Shurmur coincided with the team’s regression back into the offensive weeds. From Lock to Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos were efficient at best, but never potent enough to complement their lockdown defense. Fangio’s most significant hire, offensive line coach Mike Munchak, helped transform a wayward unit into one of the league’s best fronts. Offensive tackle Garett Bolles went from potential first-round bust to borderline All-Pro.
In short, it seemed like there was a solid foundation for a contending franchise, minus the player under center and the person calling plays. Would another season have yielded a turnaround? We’ll never know.
WAS IT THE RIGHT MOVE?
This is a difficult question to answer. Think about it this way: No matter who you bring in as head coach, you are going to downgrade collectively as a defense in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Are you going to upgrade enough as an offense to compete with those teams in a shootout? Fangio was not successful in terms of wins and losses, but his team was largely drama-free. It was a professionally run shop and he held up his end of the bargain defensively. Another approach from general manager George Paton could have been to scour the coaching market and poach an offensive coordinator with promise as a potential coach-in-waiting, which would have given Fangio the chance to work with a different play-caller and attract a different veteran quarterback off the market.
It may sound like a lot of excuse-making for Fangio, and perhaps he is better suited for the coordinator chair, but if given the choice between trying to consistently outscore Patrick Mahomes with an average defense or fight with him in the mud backed by a great defense, it would make more sense to only need 24 points to beat the Chiefs and not 35 given what is currently on the roster.
WHO WILL REPLACE HIM?
Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a name that makes a good deal of sense here. Broncos general manager (and former Vikings assistant GM) George Paton is obviously familiar with Hackett having spent a previous lifetime in the NFC North. Hackett was our top choice this year on our preseason coaching candidates list and you can read more about him here. While there is no consensus “top” candidate on the market this year, Hackett seems to be among the select few first-time, offense-focused candidates poised to make the interview rounds for every vacancy. Hackett is currently steeped in the Kyle Shanahan-Matt LaFleur branded outside zone offense but has run everything under the sun, bringing his West Coast offense background and spinning it into some creative canvas. At Syracuse University, he once scrapped the team’s playbook two weeks before the season, installed a 1990s-style Buffalo Bills K-Gun offense and broke a ton of school records.
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Cowboys: It’s good to see Quinn having a rebirth in Dallas, especially outside of the confines of the Pete Carroll Cover 3 scheme. Quinn’s new, amoebic look that has elevated Micah Parsons to defensive rookie of the year shoo-in is a strong example of what he could bring to a franchise, along with an infectious attitude and a personable approach.
Jeff Rodgers, special teams coordinator/assistant head coach, Cardinals: Rodgers has been instrumental in the creation of a program in Arizona, helping Kliff Kingsbury avoid some of the typical pitfalls of a collegiate coach transitioning to the NFL. Rodgers and the Colts' Bubba Ventrone led our special teams coordinator class this year during a preseason polling of coaching experts. This could be the kind of outside-the-box hire that pays dividends for Denver while they continue to explore quarterback options and find their identity.
Kevin O’Connell, offensive coordinator, Rams: If you are Paton, do you hire O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback whose star has quickly risen in the coaching ranks, in an attempt to cut the line on the next great offensive mind? It’s not a bad idea. The former Belichick draft pick has played a pivotal role in one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses this year.
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