ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Were it not for his high school football coach, Vic Fangio may have chosen a different career path.
He probably still would've ended up with a job in sports, Fangio said Wednesday, but a four-decade career in football? Without legendary Pennsylvania high school football coach Jack Henzes?
"Probably not, because it was through his enthusiasm and passion and knowledge of football that I caught the bug from him," Fangio said. "I always knew I was going to do something in sports, but maybe it would've been another sport. After my high school career with him, I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Fangio started coaching for Henzes at Dunmore (Pa.) High School in 1979, and the three years he spent at the high-school level were critical in shaping his perspective on both football and life.
That's why it was so important to Fangio to welcome the more than 190 coaches from 54 Colorado high schools at the Broncos' ninth annual High School Football Coaches Clinic on Wednesday.
"I always feel an allegiance to high school football for what it does for our game," Fangio said afterward. "It's the grassroots of our game. And I also coached high school football for three years. So I have a special bond and feelings for high school football and high school coaches."
The high school coaches attended breakout sessions with offensive, defensive and special teams coaches after Fangio's welcome and question-and-answer session. And while the scheme is important, Fangio knows there's more to coaching.
"A high school football coach can have a great effect on the development of a teenager," Fangio said. "It's a great responsibility, but with that responsibility comes a lot of joy and achievement and satisfaction. That's a great thing when you're coaching high school football."
And in a different life, as Fangio told the coaches, he would've gladly stayed and coached high schoolers for the duration of his career.
"If you're one of those coaches or part of a coaching staff that does a great job, my hat's off to you," Fangio said. "Because I know the work that goes along with it and the lack of compensation that goes along with it. But there is a lot of joy in high school. If I was a cat and I had nine lives, I would've stayed in high school football forever and been very happy doing it."
During his nearly 20-minute talk with the coaches, he addressed a number of topics. Several of his answers can be seen below:
On how to establish a good culture:
"Culture is a word that has gotten too loosely used in sports, I think. I'm going to tell you what a good culture is: It's to get a bunch of good coaches and a bunch of good players and you win and all of a sudden you've got a hell of a culture. So that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to coach the hell out of these guys. The one thing that attracted me to football more than the other sports is coaches have more of an impact in football than any other game. Just think about it: there's no other sport where you huddle up — and I know you don't huddle up as much as you used to … but a play is being called every time. There's techniques involved to execute those plays. You're trying to get 11 guys to operate as one. So coaching has a major impact on the success of the team. … I don't have a formula or paragraph to describe what a culture would be, but we're just trying to do a hell of a job. Make guys accountable, do a hell of a job of coaching them, make big expectations for them to do the little things right — and then I think all of a sudden if that happens, well we're winning some games. You've got a hell of a culture."
On being there for students in the wake of events like Tuesday's school shooting in Colorado:
"I know it's hard — I don't have any answers for you, probably you guys don't either — in light of yesterday's happenings at the local school. I don't know what to tell you guys. Obviously nobody else does either. But to put yourself in there knowing that this stuff is a possibility, it probably makes things very uncomfortable at times. I know that the students look up to you guys, respect you and need you. You guys are performing more duties of importance than when I was a high school coach. So God bless you on that."
On how to help a team improve their tackling:
"You emphasize it. I worked for a coach once — not my high school coach — who said, 'If you've emphasized something, you'll get it. If you don't emphasize it, it won't happen.' So we emphasize it in drills. Now do we practice live tackling? No. Very, very seldomly. If you come here and watch every one of our practices in training camp, you will see very, very little live tackling. So the video becomes important. ... To me, it's just still emphasis and just not giving in to say, 'Well, we don't have enough to teach it.' All I'm interested in is what are the rules of the CBA? What are the rules that govern practice? We're going to make it work."
On high school coaches' potential impact:
"Let's face it. Most of your kids you coach aren't getting a college scholarship. Just like most of the kids that the college coaches coach aren't going to the NFL. So if you can leave them with something that they can take forever, then I think that's special. High-school kids are very impressionable. You can mold them."
On if he's found a way to turn football "off" and think about other things in his free time:
"I'm the worst guy to ask about that. No. You want me to make something up? I'm just being honest with you. It's like when we're getting ready to play a game and I have visitors from out of town visiting, whether they're from my immediate family [or] friends. I don't want them around me. And it's not because I'm nervous. It's not because they're being a pain in the butt. I've just got my mind working. I'm not in a bad mood — it might look to them like I'm in a bad mood [and] mad at them that they're here. But my mind is going. Just like you guys' mind is going. It goes back to what I said. You call a play, every play. There's no fast-breaks, up-and-down action like you see in basketball where it's on [the players]. You call a play, every play. So you've got to think about it and all the possibilities. There are other coaches that do a better job of that than I do, but I'm not good at it."
On how rule changes to protect players have impacted the game:
"They've made a lot of safety rules. Sometimes you guys have had more safety rules than we do — and I'm all for them. But they still haven't taken out knocking the s--- out of somebody. They haven't taken that out. You just can't do it with the crown of your helmet. You can't do it in their head. You can't do it in their neck. Everything else is open for business. And you just constantly show them good plays where they're doing that. You can still physically intimidate another player and another team with everything I just talked about. I really believe that. Just show them the plays, the legal plays where you can do it. That's what we do."