In Broncos Country, the sentiment of the day – probably the week – is pretty simple:
Vic Fangio must go.
That’s just what happens to Broncos coaches when their team gets embarrassed at home by the Raiders – the coachless Raiders, no less. Wade Phillips was shown the door following the 1994 season, a campaign in which he was swept by the Raiders, including a 48-16 drubbing at home. Josh McDaniels was whacked five games after getting beat by (then) Oakland 59-14 right in front of Mr. Bowlen himself.
It was incredibly obvious on Sunday that Fangio has no business coaching the Broncos. The botched challenge calls; the lack of preparedness against a team that was ripe for the picking; the fact that his defense gave up 34 points, 340 yards through the air and 86 on the ground; a third consecutive loss – and all in front of Mike Shanahan, the greatest coach in Broncos history. The contrast of Fangio’s latest performance set against the backdrop of celebrating Shanahan’s enshrinement into the Broncos Ring of Fame was palpable, if not sickening. Broncos first-year GM George Paton, who has no direct connection to the organization’s proud history, could become an instant local hero if he re-established the standard at which the Broncos must operate and put a pink slip on Fangio’s desk first thing Monday morning.
That likely won’t happen, but for Fangio, it’s looking less like a matter of if, and more like a matter of when.
And today, it feels like the appropriate answer is “as soon as possible.” When the present is this unpleasant, turning toward the future feels like the appropriate next step.
But unlike the notion that Fangio is unfit to be a bona fide NFL coach – at this point, surely we can all agree on that, can’t we? – the “when” and “how” and “who” is not that simple.
It might be premature to look ahead to the 2022 season – who knows who might be available during the offseason – but evaluating the immediate future seems reasonable.
Who on the current staff is qualified to be an interim coach?
It’s easy to say that a message must be sent, that the standard (if there even is such a thing within the Broncos organization these days) must be upheld, that another year cannot be wasted, but take one look at the Broncos coaching staff. Is there anyone who could be trusted to coach the Broncos, even for two-thirds of a season?
Ironically, the Raiders, a team that quite literally lost its head coach just six days before playing the Broncos, handed its interim duties over to the special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia. For a quick chuckle, consider handing those same duties over to Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon. If there’s a single person within the Broncos organization that exemplifies just how low the bar in Denver currently sits, it’s McMahon, whose special teams units have been an utter disaster for the better part of four seasons. It’s indisputable that the special teams in Denver have been awful, yet, McMahon has somehow kept his job further reinforcing the notion that there’s no consequence for a job done poorly.
Look at the offensive side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been almost as bad as McMahon. He didn’t do Drew Lock any favors last season and has yet to establish an offensive identity this season. His playbook is unimaginative, and the results reflect it. After finally scoring a touchdown on the Broncos first possession of the game – something that hadn’t happened since December of 2019 nor in Shurmur’s tenure as Denver’s OC – the offense proceeded to produce zero points and just 60 yards over the next six possessions. It took until 6:38 in the third quarter for Shurmur’s offense to score again, a field goal at that. Shurmur’s offense has been anything but exciting to watch, and the 24 points scored against the Raiders was largely a product of garbage time. It was another (specifically) embarrassing performance in front The Mastermind, who made offense fun in Denver. Shurmur wasn’t good as a head coach in New York, and he hasn’t been good as the Broncos offensive coordinator. There’s no reason to believe he’d be an adequate interim coach.
Fangio might be sitting on the hottest seat, but nobody in Denver wants to keep his special teams coach or offensive coordinator, either. That’s the sad state of affairs that currently plagues the Broncos. The search for interim might have to take place elsewhere.
On defense, Ed Donatell is the coordinator, although the title might not truly reflect what he has or hasn’t done. Make no mistake, this is Fangio’s defense – and it’s underperformed this season. Donatell might actually be the best candidate to fill the role of interim head coach. He’s got the experience – 42 years of coaching, 30 of which have been in the NFL including two stints with the Broncos as a secondary coach (1995-99 and again from 2009-10). If Paton wanted to send a strong message, but avoid putting the Broncos in an even worse situation, Donatell might be the most logical choice. It would be difficult to change offensive coordinators mid-season (regardless of how bad Shurmur has been), while Donatell could continue to call the defense. He couldn’t be any worse than Fangio at managing the clock or replay challenges.
There’s also offensive line coach Mike Munchak, another staff member with plenty of NFL experience. A Pro Football Hall of Famer, Munchak is highly thought of; he’s even been a head coach before, taking the Titans to a 22-26 record during his three years in Tennessee.
A quarterbacks coach can sometimes be an interim candidate, but Mike Shula has 30 years of coaching experience and hasn’t necessarily been on an upward trajectory of late. Since 2017, his last year of being Carolina’s offensive coordinator, Shula has only spent time as a quarterbacks coach. He preceded Nick Saban as Alabama’s head coach from 2003 to 2006, but won just over half of his games. None of this is to say that Shula would be a good choice or a bad choice, it’s only to suggest that his name does not regularly surface when a new head coaching job opens up.
Who could replace Vic Fangio as the Broncos head coach, if, hypothetically, he was let go sooner than later? That’s a good question, as it doesn’t appear there’s an obvious choice waiting in the wings. Perhaps a change is needed simply for the sake of making a change.
An ugly loss to the Raiders reiterated that Fangio is unlikely a part of the Broncos future. When the “future” begins, however, is a trickier proposition.