The curiosity in Chicago was only natural Thursday afternoon as Vic Fangio adjusted the microphone in his new Colorado home and leaned in to speak. Finally, after 19 decorated seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator for five teams, he began to answer the question that has followed him for much of that time.
How would he fare if ever granted a head coaching opportunity?
With so much uncertainty ahead in his new role coaching the Broncos, his answers and explanations at his introductory press conference were as predictable as his daily practice attire.
“Fundamentals is still what wins in this league,” he told reporters at Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo. “I’m going to stress those. We’re not going to cut any corners. There will be no death-by-inches.”
That’s Vic for you. His effectiveness is in his simplicity. No frills. No B.S. Just a guy in his gray sweatsuit coaching ball.
It certainly worked in rebuilding the Bears defense. “They weren’t built for anything,” he once said of the unit he inherited in 2015. Look at them now, though, atop the NFL in points allowed and takeaways.
But how will his steak-over-sizzle persona resonate from the head coach’s chair?
What a spectacular case study in the Age of Sean McVay. Teams in this copycat league seem magnetized by young coaches whose charisma is outdistanced only by their offensive X-and-O aptitude.
Remember, even Bears general manager Ryan Pace turned down Fangio for the head coach position last January in favor of Matt Nagy. Sustainability, Pace said, is rooted in pairing a quarterback with a head coach/play-caller.
And consider their profiles. Nagy, 40, coaches offense with a specialty in quarterbacks. He balances a fun-loving leadership style with the seriousness and detail-oriented focus required to succeed.
Fangio, 60, is a defensive guru who began coaching in the NFL before all but one current Broncos player was born. The generation gap naturally creates a teacher-student dynamic instead of peer-to-peer.
By Fangio’s own admission, his predominant feeling after victories is relief. No one ever quite found out how that manifested at Club Dub.
Nagy’s leadership style contributed more to the Bears’ worst-to-first turnaround than his 21st-ranked offense. He instilled the team’s ability to maintain a microfocus on each week’s challenges. He also cultivated enough fun to foster cohesion and commitment among players. It steered them to the NFC North title before their steadiness betrayed them in the playoffs.
With Fangio overseeing the Bears’ engine — that terrific defense — they proved different personas can mesh well.
On the surface, Fangio isn’t the coach who will rally the Broncos with a spontaneous “Boom!” in the locker room. “Lord Fangio growing his blitz package in his dungeon,” is how Colts quarterback Andrew Luck once described him from their time together at Stanford.
But Fangio’s Bears players appreciated so much about him. How his dry wit could lighten a meeting. Or how his individual challenges could motivate them.
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks recalled at midseason how Fangio pulled him into his office, showed him video of a screen pass, and challenged him to commit to sprinting out toward the ballcarrier to disrupt him or make the tackle. It lit a fire in the first-time Pro Bowler.
In 2017, after Prince Amukamara tipped a pass that Eddie Jackson returned for a touchdown against the Panthers, Amukamara explained how he knew what route to expect because of the tip sheet compiled by defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, one of Fangio’s top lieutenants.
Fangio brings to the Broncos that attention to details and basics.
“You start from the ground up,” he said. “You give (players) their assignments. Once they’ve mastered their assignments, you now teach them the correct techniques with which you execute those assignments.
“If you do a great job of coaching them, the players will realize that. They will buy in, and they will execute for you to the maximum of their abilities.”
That was one of several times Fangio apologized Thursday for what he feared would be interpreted as a “stock answer.”
But he didn’t need to qualify it for John Elway, Broncos president of football operations and Hall of Fame quarterback. It was exactly what prompted Elway to hire him.
“It’s not about the glitz and the glamour and what somebody does the on the offensive side,” Elway said. “It’s about getting the foundation right, especially for us. That’s our fit. What was best for us was that we needed to start at the ground again and build up.”
Fangio embodies that ascent. From his youthful ambition to become a high school teacher and football coach in Pennsylvania, to finally reaching the NFL coaching pinnacle, he is proof that simplicity and positive results can form a self-propelling cycle.
Inside Halas Hall and in Chicago, he has many grateful supporters hoping that continues — both for Fangio in Denver and with whoever fills his big shoes with the Bears.