When the Denver Broncos made Vic Fangio the team's 17th head coach in franchise history, there was some hope that he would bring a new mentality to the table. After the Vance Joseph debacle, Broncos Country was looking for a no-nonsense coach that would return discipline to one of the winningest franchises in all of sports.
Fangio had been coaching in the NFL since 1986 and had a track record of coaching stifling defenses as a coordinator. These are often the type of credentials that would lead people to believe that he was a hard-nosed, 'get the little things right', preacher of accountability-type teacher the Broncos desperately needed.
Then, in his introductory press conference, Fangio recapitulated the 'death by inches' philosophy that John Elway was so smitten by, which kicked that hope into overdrive. It was music to the ears of Broncos fans and it was quoted around the web to nth degree.
Those words turned out to be... fraudulent. Unfortunately, from the Broncos' rabid fan base to the media, Fangio duped us all. That's what hurts the most for fans: having hopes dashed by the very person that instilled it in the first place.
Those infamous words may have been well-meaning, but as the saying goes, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Fangio simply hasn't delivered on his promise.
Words mean nothing without the actions to back them up. This is the unfortunate state of the Broncos currently. There is immense talk from the coach's podium after each game about what needs to change, but it never materializes. To reflect the reality in hindsight, perhaps Fangio's famous trope should be re-branded as the 'bark but no bite' philosophy.
In his third season as head coach, Fangio is making the same mistakes he made in his first year. Furthermore, there are boneheaded mistakes across the board from players to assistant coaches. The responsibility falls on the head coach to get these fixed, but Fangio has been unable to shoulder it. One need look no further than the Broncos' last game for a snapshot of his errors.
Game Management Snafus
Fangio continues to display game management issues. His lack of time management skills is apparent, but he also doesn’t know when it is necessary to stop action and fix something at crucial points of the game with a little tool called a timeout.
The high-profile debacle of assigning rush linebacker Von Miller to cover a dynamic Pittsburgh wide receiver in Chase Claypool is example No. 1 (whether it was a zone-coverage call or not). First of all, it's against the rules for the offense to confuse the defense with players in the huddle that aren’t going to be in the next play.
For this reason, there is no excuse for the defensive coaching staff or head coach to not see the offense’s personnel grouping prior to the offense lining up. Therefore, the Broncos had the opportunity to make a substitution to correct any on-field personnel mismatches.
Even if the Broncos couldn’t make a substitution or change the defensive call, as soon as Fangio saw the extreme mismatch, he should have called a time-out. Instead, he watched as Claypool burned Miller for a 59-yard gain to set up a touchdown.
Don’t get me wrong, Miller is a future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher, so let's face it, he isn't a defensive back. His best asset is rushing the passer and it's the reason he will be wearing a gold jacket five years after his retirement. He needs to be getting after the quarterback.
Failure to Coach to Players' Strengths
This brings me to my next point in the chronicling of Fangio’s coaching failures; he's failed to put players in position to succeed. Having Miller play defensive back is a good example of a coach not scheming to the strengths of his personnel. This wasn’t the first time Miller has been in pass coverage and he wasn’t the only player whom the Broncos coaching staff failed to put in the best position possible to succeed on Sunday.
Tight end Noah Fant was curiously invisible against the Steelers. He was selected in the first round because of his dynamic receiving ability. With all the injuries to pass catchers, the Broncos needed all their playmakers running routes.
Instead, the decision was to have Fant used primary to be chip (block) the opponent’s edge rusher all game. This is not a good use of his skills-set. Fant is built to create mismatches in the passing game because of his size and speed combination. Yet, he was not allowed to do what he does best.
In his Monday post-mortem, Fangio admitted to that being the game plan all along. That's a dreadful waste of a valuable resource especially for a team that has been missing much of it due to injuries.
This one is highlighted by the fact that the Broncos' players don’t understand NFL rules, which is the responsibility of the coaches to instill. It's up to the coaches to ensure players understand situations and emphasize how certain penalties can be avoided. However, against the Steelers, two senseless penalties ruined the Broncos' chances of leaving the field victorious.
Rookie running back Javonte Williams getting penalized for delay of game for spiking the ball after a brilliant 49-yard rush was a huge blunder. His big play put the Broncos on Pittsburgh's 2-yard line, setting the offense up in position to score on a subsequent run.
Instead, the Broncos were moved back 15 yards, and a few plays later, had to settle for a field goal. After the game, Williams admitted to not knowing the rules. It's tough to point a finger at a young player being over-excited after a great play but it's one example of many over the past three seasons that speaks to a lack of discipline.
Then there was Dre’Mont Jones getting a leverage penalty on the Steelers' field goal try, giving the opponent a new set of downs that was shortly followed by a touchdown which made the difference in the final score. It was a mistake that should not have happened. In a side-stepping move, Fangio blamed the refs when asked about it in his press conference.
“I don't think it was [a penalty]," Fangio said Monday. "He didn't leverage to lift himself up. We've seen several shots of ones that were more leveraged than that, that weren't called, so we were surprised with that call.”
Passing the Buck
These are just a few examples of many that reveal Fangio’s 'death by inches' mantra to be a facade. And it isn’t just the product on the field that speaks to it. Fangio slamming the Baltimore Ravens and whining about John Harbaugh calling a run play to secure a record on the final snap of the game in Week 4 was ludicrous and a bad look for the Broncos.
Complaining about one meaningless play as time expired instead of focusing on the plays that actually affected the game — in an embarrassing loss — took precedent for Fangio. He wasn’t just whining as he lashed out at the opposing coach in a very offensive and immature manner.
This is an attitude that sees a locker room lose respect for its leader. Veteran safety Kareem Jackson's 'I don't give a ____' response was more leader-like than the very person who was hired to be the team’s leader.
Dead-Wrong Staffing Decisions
One final example of Fangio's leadership ineptitude is his inability to hire the right assistants on his staff. A true leader is a master at getting the right people on the bus for the journey to success.
Fangio has stuck with the one coach who has proven time and again that he cannot lead his unit. Tom McMahon has flat out failed as a special teams coordinator and that failure has reared its ugly head over and over again. Fangio’s utter refusal to replace him has been mind-boggling and speaks to his incompetence in leading a team.
These are a few recent examples in two-plus seasons of ineptitude. I'm only scratching the surface here and it reveals a coach that appears to be well in over his head.
Fangio has won just 15-of-37 games he has coached in the Mile High City and entered this season with a lot to prove. Alas, he has not produced any evidence that he's learned from his past blunders, nor has he provided proof of the leadership required to lead the Broncos out of the NFL doldrums.
Fangio was supposed to right the ship after two years of ineptitude but has failed. In the ultimate irony, Fangio's career is likely to succumb to the very death-by-inches philosophy (only in reverse). Call it death by one thousand inches.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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