ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In his first official day on the job, newly minted Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio quickly and decisively put his stamp on his expectations with a phrase that just may have gotten him, at age 60, the first head coaching job of his career.
When Broncos president of football operations and general manager John Elway was asked what made him put Fangio on his list of the team’s interviews, he said: “Looking at kind of what we needed… when he said we’re not going to kill ourselves by inches, it’s not going to be death by inches, that was something that stood out to me right away.”
In a search for discipline, accountability, teaching and expertise on one side of the ball — all things Elway called “the foundation of football” — it was Fangio, who has waited decades for the opportunity he now has with the Broncos, who was the match. Fangio is known to have interviewed for just two head coaching jobs previously in his long, decorated career as an NFL assistant — with the Chargers in 1996 and the 49ers in 2015.
And by Thursday afternoon, Fangio’s mantra of “death by inches” was already making the rounds in a football-mad region that has seen its team miss the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. The Broncos’ 5-11 and 6-10 finishes of the last two years marked the first time the team had back-to-back seasons with at least 10 losses since 1966-67.
The Broncos fired Vance Joseph on Dec. 31 after two seasons on the job. After the team conducted extended interviews with five different candidates, Fangio is now the franchise’s 17th head coach.
“When you see a small misdemeanor crime, that’s an inch crime, you correct it,” Fangio said. “Here’s what ‘death by inches’ means, if you’re running a meeting … and a player walks in say, 30 seconds late, 45 seconds late, that act in and 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 went from 30 seconds to two minutes and it causes an avalanche of problems. And that’s death by inches.”
With several of the Broncos players in the room, including linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Derek Wolfe, Fangio outlined a disciplined approach to the game that he believes has adjusted to the times.
He said he will call plays on defense and that the construction of the coaching staff, including who will call plays on offense, is still under construction, including what the role will be for Gary Kubiak, who won Super Bowl 50 as the Broncos’ coach and stepped away after the 2016 season because of health concerns.
After some time away from football, Kubiak has been working in the Broncos’ personnel department. Elway said earlier this month Kubiak would be with the team for the coming season and that it could include a return to the coaching staff.
“Gary is a hell of a coach, he’s a guy I’ve respected,” Fangio said. “… If Gary’s interested, then I’m interested. … I’ll answer that when we know more.”
Fangio, who has long worked with linebackers a little extra on the teams he has been a defensive play-caller, also said he had big plans for the Broncos defense as well, including linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
“Von Miller can be one of the great players in this league,” Fangio said. ” … We’re going to try to take them both to bigger and better levels and I think Von Miller can play even better than he’s played in his career.”