ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Vic Fangio’s first season as head coach of the Denver Broncos will be judged in wins.
Of that, there’s little question.
After back-to-back losing seasons, the organization is eager to move back toward success. And President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway knows there are few other ways to judge that progress than in victories.
“Win,” said Elway on Thursday when asked what will make Fangio’s first season a success. “That’s [his] job, right?”
But Elway acknowledged there’s more that goes into a turnaround after the Broncos posted a 11-21 record over the previous two years.
“I think you can look at all the different things that happened last year and you can look at the number of wins we’ve had the last two and say, ‘OK, we want to win one more or two more,’” Elway said. “But the bottom line is we want to get this thing turned around, get it back on track, get out there [and] play disciplined football [and] play like we’re capable of playing. I think we’ve got the guy that will make that happen. I’m excited to watch him work.”
To get back to that disciplined style of football, Fangio knows he must return to the basics with his team.
That’s why — even though most will pay attention to the wins and the losses — Fangio has a more granular view of how to improve.
“Ultimately everyone will look to the win-loss record — but it’s my goal and purpose to make every individual player improve and get better,” Fangio said. “If we do that within his position group, that position group will be better. If we do that on that side of the ball — whether it be offense, special teams or defense — we’ll be better.
“And ultimately, we’ll have a better team, which will lead to a better record. You’ve got to start from the ground up. So we’re trying to get better every day.”
As Fangio enters his first season as head coach, though, don’t expect him to rely too heavily on any member of his staff or their experiences.
In part, this attitude comes from his time in Chicago. When Bears coach Matt Nagy got to Chicago ahead of last season, he told Fangio he’d rely on his experience often. But Fangio said Nagy only asked for advice a few times.
And Fangio, who seemed confident in his own coaching abilities, said he’s likely to follow Nagy’s example.
“He leaned on me two or three times,” Fangio said. “Whoever we have on the staff and their experiences, if I have to lean on them more than a few times, then I’m in trouble.”
Instead, in his first year as head coach, Fangio should be able to rely on his own gut to guide the defense.
In Chicago, he did so in quick fashion. When he arrived in 2015, the Bears were coming off a season in which they were ranked 30th in total defense and 31st in points allowed. In the unit’s first season with Fangio, it jumped to 14th in total defense and 20th in points allowed.
The defense continued its climb over the next two years and ended the 2018 season ranked first in points allowed and third in total defense.
He could make a similar impact in Denver given his individualistic approach.
And though he’s a defensive-minded head coach, Elway thinks Fangio will be able to help spur offensive innovation, as well. Because he's so well-versed on defense, Fangio has a sense of what makes defenses uncomfortable. And that’s helpful to an offense.
“You have great defensive coordinators that are able to talk to an offensive staff and say, ‘Well, that gives us problems, that gives us problems, that gives us problems,’” Elway said. “So, I’m sure Vic will be in the middle of those offensive meetings too because of the fact.”
As Year 1 begins, Fangio will move forward knowing well of the Broncos’ winning tradition.
He spoke candidly Thursday about Denver’s many Super Bowl appearances — and the city’s desire for another.
“I accept the responsibility of leading us to more,” Fangio said.