Vic Fangio

Former Bears DC Vic Fangio off to rough start as Broncos coach

Former Bears DC Vic Fangio off to rough start as Broncos coach

Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was one of the few head-coaching candidates last offseason whose reputation in the league was based on defense. With most teams looking for the next young offensive guru, Fangio's stature as a veteran defensive coach made the Denver Broncos' decision to name him their head coach a pretty bold move.

After a 3-6 start and a change from Joe Flacco to Brandon Allen at quarterback, Denver's lacking offense has sparked internal frustration, according to CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora.

The real source of the difficulty, however, appears to be Fangio.

Fangio has had issues with offensive assistants, the sources said, and at one point top receiver Emmanuel Sanders in essence walked out on the team, leading to his eventual trade. Lines of communication have been strained, and Fangio has been quick to dispute play calls and come across as overbearing on the headsets, sources said, which has created issues in-game and otherwise.

Fangio's time in Chicago was highlighted by the dominant performance of the Bears' defense in 2018, one that led the team to an NFC North championship and its first playoff berth since 2010.

But he was never able to establish himself as the kind of coach who could handle the media or other responsibilities that come along with being atop the coaching food chain. His to-the-point and sometimes brutally honest style worked well for a grizzled defensive coordinator, but head coaches are held to a different standard.

It would be unfair to expect Fangio to change who he is at this point in his coaching career, which began with the New Orleans Saints 33 seasons ago. 

Maybe we're just starting to see why it took so long for him to actually land a head coaching position.

Age before beauty when it comes to Bears, elite NFL defensive coaching

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USA Today

Age before beauty when it comes to Bears, elite NFL defensive coaching

It doesn’t necessarily qualify as age discrimination, maybe just more of a sorta “age-typing” around the NFL. Because the image of what makes a top offensive mind in the NFL is radically different from what’s become almost a standard for defensive-coaching pedigree.

Looking for a hot offensive coach? The cliche’d expectation has become that it’ll be someone young.

Putting together a ring of honor for the elite defensive minds in the NFL? Think “veteran"... VERY veteran.

Consider:

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer this week remarked during preparations for his Vikings hosting the Denver Broncos that he was pleased that Denver coach and former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio finally got a head-coaching berth at a time when so many top jobs have been going to the presumed hot, young offensive minds that vaulted to the top after “one-year sabbaticals.”

The one-year thing refers to the fast-tracking that has happened with increased frequency in recent years — the ascensions to head coach of Adam Gase (41) with the Jets, Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury (40), Matt LaFleur (40) in Green Bay, the Bears’ Matt Nagy (41), or Zac Taylor (36) in Cincinnati — after a year or two, sometimes less, as offensive coordinators. Sean McVay was 31 when the Rams hired him. Kyle Shanahan took over in San Francisco at 38.

Andy Reid at 61 looks perhaps like an outlier out there in Kansas City. But Reid was 41 when he became Donovan McNabb’s head coach in Philadelphia back in 1999.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason, the image bar on defense, between head coaches or defensive coordinators, lies in the other direction — the savvy, cagy, crusty old lion: Bill Belichick (67) in New England with the NFL’s No. 1 defense; Dallas ranked No. 6 on defense with coordinator Rod Marinelli (70); the Bears fourth in scoring defense under Chuck Pagano (59), who succeeded Fangio. Denver No. 7 with Fangio as head coach and Ed Donatell (62) as his defensive coordinator.

Preparing for the Los Angeles Rams’ 11th-ranked defense on Sunday, Nagy this week brought up Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (72) for recognition: “How do you not appreciate what he’s done over his career? He’s done some amazing things. He’s been in the league forever. When he was in Denver and I was in Kansas City we’ve seen him. When he was in Houston and I was in Kansas City we’ve seen him.”

Defensive legend Dick LeBeau finished his NFL coaching career with Tennessee at age 80.

So how is it that youth has come to be served on offense, while on defense, the prevailing philosophy has been age before beauty?

"I don't know,” Nagy reflected. “Maybe it's just a phase that we're in right now?

“It's probably a little bit of a trend involved there. the other part of it, too, is that you get some of these older coaches that are in it, they've seen it all, right? You go back to Tom Brady when he talked about that he's seen every defense; these [defensive seniors] have seen every offense and so they have ways to adjust and experiences.”

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Should Bears be worried about facing ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knowing them too well? Maybe not

Should Bears be worried about facing ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knowing them too well? Maybe not

If the Bears shock the NFL world and take the measure of the Denver Broncos under ‘he-really-knows-the-Bears’ head coach Vic Fangio, it shouldn’t be a complete stunner, regardless of the Bears’ apparent shortcomings at quarterback and an opposing head coach with intimate knowledge of the Bears.

Because it will be anything but the first time.

The Bears saw legendary defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan leave after the 1985 season to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1986, the Bears – with Mike Tomczak at quarterback – faced Buddy’s Eagles and rushed for 244 yards against a defense that featured Reggie White. The next year the Bears beat the Eagles 35-3 in a strike season, so set that one off to the side. But those Spare Bears beat Ryan’s strike Eagles with Mike Hohensee (and Sean Payton) at quarterback.

The 1988 Bears-Buddy meeting came in the Fog Bowl, a 20-12 Bears win in which the Bears, again with Tomczak under center (at least when anyone could see him), ran up 341 yards against a defense that had expanded to include Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner and Todd Bell besides White.

1989: Bears 27 Eagles 13.

Buddy was gone from Philadelphia after 1990, then resurfaced in ’94 as Arizona Cardinals head coach and proclaiming, “You’ve got a winner in town.” Not against the Bears – losing 19-16 to Chicago – and not enough in general, fired after going 4-12 the following year.

So, even with a mystique – and Ryan had one every bit as much as Fangio – the NFL still insists that you actually play the games, and they sometimes go no way close to what is expected. 

* * *

Did anything strike you as a little…off…last Monday watching Fangio and the Denver Broncos? 

The Broncos played like the antithesis of a team with a new head coach, which usually amps everything up if only because players are still working to impress the new boss. Presumably they didn’t. 

But what about Fangio impressing his new boss, football chief John Elway? 

Remember when Elway fired John Fox after four straight playoff seasons, including a Super Bowl trip, because he didn’t feel like Fox’s team played with sufficient fire in big games? “Two years in a row, it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming,” were Elway’s words as Fox left.

If there was kicking and screaming against Oakland last Monday, must’ve missed it.

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