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'We'll turn over every stone': Vic Fangio details coaching staff's plan for improvement in 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Vic Fangio heads into his third offseason as the Broncos' head coach, he plans to evaluate every area of the team's operation to see how the Broncos can improve in 2021.

"A to Z, we're going to evaluate everything, and we've already started that," Fangio said Tuesday. "We're going to study other teams, as many as we can in the time given, and we'll turn over every stone in an effort to improve."

Asked specifically whether those improvements could mean turning over defensive play-calling responsibilities to Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell in order to focus on game management, Fangio said that decision would fall under the scope of their overall evaluation.

"Anything we can do from A to Z to improve, we will look at and we will evaluate and see if we think it's the best thing to do," Fangio said.

Fangio has called plays for each of the last two seasons and for the last several decades as a defensive play-caller.

Regardless of whether Fangio calls plays, he said there are several areas in which he'd like to improve, particularly after a challenging second season in which the team slipped to 5-11. Fangio holds a 12-20 record through his first two seasons.

"I want to continue to improve in all areas," Fangio said. "This year was different. [It's] funny. Last year, after your first year, you would think that last year would be toughest. A lot of people asked me, 'What happened that you didn't expect? What was rough?' And last year really went smoothly. I couldn't tell anybody anything, 'Man, we had this or that happen.' This year — when you think it would be easier — with COVID, the injuries, the constant change of schedules, getting the calls and texts early in the morning every day on the COVID results, it made it more distracting and more balls to juggle this year than last year. Hopefully the third year will be the magical year for me, where everything goes a little bit smooth again."

Fangio said he is not concerned with how a new general manager could impact his status as head coach.

"I feel the same," Fangio said. "Moving forward, whoever we end up hiring here, I'm sure we'll forge a good relationship. I've had experience over the years obviously working with many different general managers. I like to think I'm easy to work with, and I'm sure who we hire will be a guy that's a consensus builder, but ultimately be the guy that makes the final decision as it relates to the roster. I'm not really concerned about that."

It's clear, though, that the Broncos must improve their record in the coming seasons. And while President and CEO Joe Ellis knows Fangio must continue to get better as a coach, he said he believes he is capable of such improvement.

"I believe that he has great ability to teach players how to win and put them in a position through game-planning and everything else so they can be successful," Ellis said. "We just haven't executed it. We've had some problems late in games and it boils up in frustration and anger and I understand that. We have to improve there, and we have to win. We have to get better. I do think he's a good football coach and I think the staff is good and they're experienced. … Another year with them together stabilizes things to a certain point. Fans will disagree and say it's not going to work, but I don't see it that way. I think it has a chance to work."

As Denver evaluates its areas for improvement, Fangio said he expects the team's coaching staff to remain intact.

"I do anticipate [the staff] in returning in full," Fangio said. "As always, as things happen in the early part of the offseason, some guys may have some opportunities for advancement. We'll always look at that, but other than that I'm anticipating the staff back."

That will include Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon, in whom Fangio said he continues to have confidence. McMahon joined the Broncos in 2018 and was one of several staff members that Fangio retained when he was hired in 2019.

"I think our special teams performance was a lot like our offense and defense," Fangio said. "It was choppy at times. We allowed too many negative plays to happen against us in the return game. We had a punt blocked or two that you can't have. I have confidence in Tom that he'll get that turned around. Tom was a guy that John [Elway] recommended highly to me when I first took this job, and we've kept Tom.

"He's a tireless worker, very knowledgeable in the kicking game. We just have to — like we do on offense and defense — button up those things to avoid the disastrous plays."


Asked to name a player who took the biggest step in 2020, Fangio pointed to rookie offensive lineman Lloyd Cushenberry.

"He was a guy that constantly got better inch by inch," Fangio said. "He never made a big jump one week to the next, but he just kept getting better in small increments and by the end of the season was playing his best football. I think after this offseason and he gets to watch himself in cut-ups and getting coached by [Offensive Line Coach] Mike [Munchak] and 'Kupe' [Assistant Offensive Line Coach Chris Kuper], that he'll come back a better player. I expect him to flourish next year even more so."

Despite the lack of an in-person offseason, shared first-team reps in training camp and no preseason games, Cushenberry earned the team's starting center job and was the only offensive player to take every snap for the Broncos in 2020.


Fangio said he is hopeful both Von Miller and Justin Simmons remain in 2021, but he noted the team's general manager would have a big role to play in those decisions.

"We'd love to have both of them back, that's obvious," Fangio said. "Once we do hire the new general manager, he'll assess our roster, where we're at, how it relates to salary cap, and he'll have the major say in that moving forward. I'd like to defer to that, but both of those guys are guys that I would like to have back."

Simmons will be an unrestricted free agent, while the Broncos have a team option on Miller's contract.


Asked about Garett Bolles' comments Monday that Ja'Wuan James would need to earn back the trust of his teammates, Fangio said he is confident James will be able to accomplish that task.

"I've been in touch a couple times with Ja'Wuan during the season, and I know he's anxious to get back here and get back in the fold," Fangio said. "Anytime you've been out for a year, you got to get yourself back into the mix and earn the respect and trust of everybody moving forward. I'm sure he'll be able to do that."

James, who opted out ahead of the 2020 season, has appeared in just three games for the Broncos after signing with the team in 2019.


… G/C Austin Schlottmann (shoulder) and CB Michael Ojemudia (knee) will undergo minor offseason surgeries.

… Players rehabbing at UCHealth Training Center will continue to undergo COVID-19 testing.

… The start date for the Broncos' offseason program remains fluid due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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