ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Vic Fangio began his coaching career in 1979, he didn't have his sights set on the NFL. All he wanted to do was follow in Jack Henzes' footsteps.
Henzes, Fangio's football coach at Dunmore High School, led a legendary career high-school coaching career in Pennsylvania. For about 50 years, Henzes remained at Dunmore and compiled a record that included 444 wins. That was dreaming big for Fangio at the time.
"When I first started coaching, all I really wanted to be was a high school head coach eventually, just like he was," Fangio said, "and that would be it for me."
But destiny had much more in store for Fangio, who soon took a step beyond the high school coaching ranks to work at the collegiate and professional football levels. Still, Fangio maintains a connection to his roots by reaching out to high school coaches, as he did Tuesday in a video-conference meeting as part of Random Acts of Kindness Week.
"I think high school football is the roots of our game," Fangio told the coaches. "All the players have started in high school. I think a lot of the things they learned in high school they carry with them throughout their career. And I think a good high school coach goes a long, long way in developing the player as an individual. I still see, when I go back home, kids that I coached in high school who are no longer kids, obviously, and the relationships that ex-players have with a high school coach throughout their lives, I think, is pretty special. High school kids can be influenced in a good way by their high school coaches, because that's when they're developing emotionally, physically and mentally. A good high school football coach can go a long way. So anything I can do to help in that regard, I'm always happy to do."
Throughout the 45-minute session, Fangio fielded an array of questions, including the big things like recommendations for first-time high school head coaches.
"A lot of it is going to be due to your numbers, how many people you have on the practice field," Fangio said. "And if you're down low in numbers, you've got to practice wisely and smartly. Whereas if you're a team, a high school with over 100 kids out there, that's obviously a lot different. The challenges are different. But I would stay true to who you are. If you've been an offensive coach or defensive coach, stay true to your specialists and still do that job. … Delegation is important, but you're there for a reason, so don't cheat your team by taking away your expertise."
Fangio also answered questions about the finer details, like spot-dropping vs. pattern-reading coverages for your defense, or playing a single-high safety vs. Cover 2. Fangio detailed his views of those strategies in the NFL and also related it to how they might work for high school athletes.
While the difference of talent or experience can create a separation in strategy for high school coaches as opposed to those in the pros, Fangio did note that some things can apply at any level.
"The blocking and tackling is still critical at both levels," Fangio said. "The thing we emphasize a lot here and that I've emphasized everywhere I've been is tackling. … That's still fundamental no matter what level you're at. Same thing offensively: guys breaking tackles, making people miss. It's still the most fundamental thing there is in football. You can have the most perfect defense called, being executed to perfection, but if you don't tackle the guy with the ball, it's all for naught. So we emphasize that a lot, and that should be emphasized at all levels. Sounds like you would assume it is, but it isn't always. … So we're counting, number one, on it being taught at the high school level, the college level. But we don't assume that. We emphasize it a lot and teach it a lot. To me that's no different. And the blocking part is still critical. We could have the best pass route design and guys running free, but if the quarterback has no time, it doesn't work. I think the blocking and tackling is still the fundamental roots of this game."
And as for any coaches who have the desire to climb the ranks like Fangio did, he shared some advice about what it takes to reach the NFL.
"It's like someone deciding they're going to be an actor in Hollywood," Fangio said. "You hear all these stories about the actors in Hollywood, how they had to work waiting on tables, bussing tables, working three jobs before they get their break. Well, it's like that in coaching. The first coaching job I had outside of high school, or high school-like, it made no money. I went there for nothing working all day and night. That's the way it is. It's a job that if you're not lucky enough to get something quickly, your first four or five, six, seven, eight years, you're busting ass working long hours and not making any money, or hardly any. You're definitely not saving money. If you don't have that mindset or that will to sacrifice that much for that long until you get your break, it's probably not for you. Now, maybe if you come from a family with parents who have money that can keep you afloat while you're doing that, that always helps. I didn't. So it's hard. … I get countless letters and resumes and things sent to me, people wanting to get a job. But it's hard. It's really, really hard."