Fangio’s firing kicks off George Paton’s first coaching search as Broncos GM

George Paton on the sideline during the Broncos - Chiefs game on Saturday. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
George Paton on the sideline during the Broncos - Chiefs game on Saturday. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” Vince Lombardi.

The man for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after sure knew a thing or two about winning as a head coach. Unfortunately for Vic Fangio, his Broncos went 19-30 over the last three years and never experienced a winning season.

And now, one day after his Broncos fell to 7-10 on the season and lost for a 13th straight time to the Kansas City Chiefs, Fangio has been fired by the Broncos.

Interestingly, while he never beat the Chiefs, Fangio’s defense did stifle and frustrate both Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid’s offense. In the end, even yesterday’s competitive game wasn’t enough to earn the man a fourth year as Denver’s head coach.

Letting go of Fangio was the right decision by General Manager George Paton for a litany of reasons.

All-time, Fangio went 4-of-16 on coaches’ challenges and that included going 1-of-8 this year. That’s awful and either he didn’t have a qualified person in the booth telling him when to challenge, or he just went for it anyway, seemingly hoping to get a call to go the Broncos’ way.

Outside of his questionable challenges, Fangio was arguably the worst clock manager in the NFL. Far too often the offense looked lethargic when they had to score in the 2-minute offense. Sure, it was Pat Shurmur’s job to oversee the offense, but one would expect the head coach to ask for or demand more from one of his top assistants.

More glaring were the missed timeouts, or wasted timeouts, at the ends of games. In Week 16, the Bengals had the ball with 2:36 remaining and a 25 second play clock. After the clock was stopped due to injury, Fangio called his final timeout, shockingly. The Bengals ran a play, and the clock ran down to the 2-minute warning.

Ideally, he would have saved the timeout and forced Cincinnati to run a play to get the clock down to two minutes, but Fangio said after the game the official told him the play clock would be reset to 40 seconds (it wasn’t).

In terms of managing the team, Fangio brought in Shurmur, whose offense was a bottom-tier producer in 2020 and then actually regressed this year. Fangio could have fired Shurmur and brought in a younger, more innovative play-caller but didn’t. The same can be said for special teams coordinator Tom McMahon, who was in the Mile High City from 2018-2022. His special teams unit has been among the worst in the league in basically every measurable way for four years; Fangio should’ve had two new coordinators to kick off 2021 if he wanted to save his job.

And then there’s the quarterback competition/controversy this year. Paton went out and traded for Teddy Bridgewater on the eve of the NFL Draft, and Bridgewater seemed to be selected as the starter even before the competition between he and Drew Lock began. Bridgewater out-performed lock in preseason and camp, earning the job, but Fangio was slow to transition to Lock late in the year even though Bridgewater was injured.

So, when we look back at Fangio’s tenure, it won’t be thought of as bad as Josh McDaniels’ or Vance Joseph’s eras — they were disastrous — but it should be remembered for a top-notch defense with dreadful offense and special teams.

Fangio’s a talented defensive coordinator, but not so much in terms of head coaching.

Now onto Paton, who has a huge decision coming up.

But first, it was a masterful move to get rid of Fangio today before the early kickoffs. It gives him a slight leg up on the other head coach-needy teams and he likely already has a short list of candidates.

Dan Quinn (Dallas DC), Nathaniel Hackett (Packers OC), Kellen Moore (Dallas OC), Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers OC) and Doug Pederson (former Eagles HC) have all been mentioned as potential replacements for Fangio.

After back-to-back swings and misses on veteran defensive-minded head coaches, the Broncos should hire a younger, offensive-minded man as their next head coach. But, is that what Paton believes?

All we know for sure is Paton is a quality talent evaluator and drafter, and we only have one draft to go on. But for now, he knocked the 2021 draft out of the park for Denver.

Patrick Surtain is a superstar in the makings, with 4 INTs this year. Javonte Williams looks ready to run through any defense as the workhorse back. Quinn Meinerz was solid filling in at guard, while Baron Browning and Caden Sterns each really impressed on the defensive side. Oh, and don’t forget Jonathan Cooper, who earned a spot on the roster going into 2022.

And while Paton will be graded year-in and year-out on his draft picks, he will likely only make one or two coaching hires if he doesn’t get this first on right.

Soon, John Elway and Joe Ellis will be out of the building too. Paton has already put his mark on the roster, and right now is when his era truly begins.

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