Why a focus on preventing 'death by inches' makes Vic Fangio the Broncos' perfect fit

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hours before Vic Fangio addressed the media for the first time as the Denver Broncos' 17th head coach, one of his new players, defensive end Derek Wolfe, walked into UCHealth Training Center for a workout.

A few minutes into his warmup on a stationary bike, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway joined him. As they talked about the new coach, Wolfe said Elway made one key point clear.

"He said, 'This guy is going to bring a discipline that we've been lacking,'" Wolfe said.

It starts with the things that seem insignificant, but are often harbingers of a failing team. Those are the root causes of what Fangio calls "death by inches."

"Those inches add up, and when those inches add up, you're in a losing program," Elway said. "[Fangio] says, 'I promise you, we will not kill ourselves by inches.' And I thought that was the best thing that he said in the interview."

As Elway and Fangio spoke of "death by inches," players such as nose tackle Shelby Harris listened, knowing that the new coach could help fix one of the aspects of the Broncos that went astray.

"That 'death by inches' thing is literally, I feel like, our season. Little things, little things, little things add up," Harris said. "Little things lose you one game, and the 'death by inches' thing is as simple as you can be 6-10 or 10-6. A couple of little things can change all that. And I feel like attention to detail about all that stuff will help bring us back to who we really are."

The quest to avoid "death by inches" starts with the details.

“When you see a small misdemeanor crime, that's an inch crime and you correct it," Fangio said. "Here's what 'death by inches' means: If you're running a meeting, whether it be a team meeting, offense or defense meeting, a position coach meeting and a player walks in, say 30 seconds late, 45 seconds late -- that act in it of itself really has no impact on whether you're going to win or lose that week.

"But if you let it slide, the next day there's two or three guys late or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems. That's 'death by inches.'”

And that is exactly what some players saw last year.

"It starts in the meetings," Wolfe said. "I'm not going to say anybody's name, but even me and Von [Miller] were talking about it, there's guys kind of trickling into meetings a little late, a couple of seconds late. In my entire football career, even in little-league football, don't walk in late. And we kind of just let that stuff slide. That's the thing."

It was the gateway to more problems later.

"You open Pandora's box, and then people started being late," Harris said. "Then it's like, 'All right, well, then, that could easily translate to you being lazy on the field, so I'm going to pull [a receiver and commit] a P.I. [pass-interference penalty], and it's third-and-25, and you get a 10-yard P.I.'

"It's just stuff like that where it starts. It starts early. Being late. Not paying attention to detail. That's the attention-to-detail thing -- pulling somebody when you're not supposed to."

Inches became yards, yards become first downs lost on offense or allowed on defense, and the accumulation results in a 2-6 record in the Broncos' last eight games decided by one score -- a mark that ultimately doomed their postseason aspirations.

The lost inches revealed themselves in penalties. In 2018, Denver had the second-most penalties in the league, averaging 7.8 per game. Worse, some of them were clearly preventable, such as the league-worst five penalties for having too many men on the field.

"It's a game of inches, so you can't give up 100 yards of penalties," Wolfe said. "You can't give the other team an entire length of the football field, just give it to them. You're just giving them those yards. The yards in a game, it all matters when it comes down to the end.

"At the end of the game, if you look [and say], 'Oh, wait, maybe if we had 50 yards of penalties instead of 100,' it would have been the difference between a field goal [or] just punting the ball away. Same thing on defense. You go out there, somebody busts an assignment on a second-and-long, and instead of it being third-and-10, it's third-and-3 and they get that first down. It's the little things."

Discipline at the smallest details, even in low-leverage situations like offseason workouts, is how those inches lost in 2018 can be recovered in 2019.

"So, [Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Loren] Landow says, 'On the whistle, we're going to do this.' Well, if you go before the whistle, that's creating a bad habit," Wolfe said. "You have to create these good habits. And it starts with coming to meetings on time.

"If your foot is supposed to be behind the line, then put your foot behind the line. If your foot's in front of the line, then everyone has to pay for that. That's how you create a team. That's how you create a bond. You create that love for each other, because when you grind together, you shine together."

That is the culture Fangio intends to create.

"I'm a fundamentals coach. I think the game of the NFL -- everybody thinks has changed and it's a high-scoring league, etc., but fundamentals is still what wins in this league," he said. "I'm going to stress those, we're not going to cut any corners, there will be no death by inches. We're going to stress fundamentals.”

That is what the Broncos must fix to ensure that the double-digit-loss seasons do not return.

"You bring a guy like Vic in, he's going to have a different culture and a different kind of mentality than V.J. [Vance Joseph] did," Wolfe said. "Not that V.J.'s mentality was bad or anything, it's just that it's different. It's what we need.

"Every team needs something different - especially when you're losing close games. That just means that something's a little off. So you tighten up a little bit, bring a new coach in -- somebody that's going to bring a little bit of discipline. I think that's going to be good."

After hearing Fangio speak for the first time, Harris felt the same way.

"At the end of the day," Harris said, "everything that he's been saying is exactly what we need."

View photos of Vic Fangio's arrival at team headquarters at UCHealth Training Center, from when he walked in to his introductory press conference, to meeting Broncos players, to his interview in the Broncos Media Center.

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