By Keith Cummings
When Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway fired inept Head Coach Vance Joseph, he was well aware that his own legacy was on the line. Joseph looked massively out of his depth as a first-time head coach and by delivering back-to-back losing seasons he secured his own ticket out of town.
Elway knew that to ‘reach’ for another rookie head coach he would only apply more pressure back onto himself. However, that is exactly what he did when he appointed the hugely respected, long time defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who, at 60 years old, has never held the top spot with an NFL team.
Whether or not the appointment is in fact a ‘reach’ will only be borne out by a combination of time and results. The general feeling is that Fangio’s assistant stints with multiple teams leaves him far better equipped to be a head coach than Vance Joseph’s resume ever did. Fangio’s role during his previous position with the Chicago Bears, where he built an elite defensive unit that proved to be a big draw for Elway.
In 2010, when the Broncos GM was entrusted with repairing the deep damage caused by previous Head Coach Josh Daniels, he turned to experience. Former Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox was utilized by Elway to offer stability and almost a coaching bridge-type fix for the Broncos. This perhaps, may in fact be a harsh assessment of a man who took his team all the way to a Super Bowl appearance.
The general feeling in Denver was that Fox had taken the Broncos as far as he could. Fox’s blatant courting of the Chicago Bears job probably matched Elway’s level of determination to bring in his old friend, Gary Kubiak, to replace him. Of course, as it turned out, the decision was vindicated with a Super Bowl ring for Kubiak, whilst Fox was no longer coaching in the NFL.
When Kubiak stepped down due to health concerns and coaching burn-out, it cost the Broncos their coaching future and forced Elway to make another appointment. His decision to appoint Joseph proved to be a massive mistake, and by sticking with him for a second losing season it only caused more damage.
Of course, not all the blame can be apportioned to Joseph, as the lack of proper quarterback play undoubtedly doomed the young head coach. Joseph’s constant in-play clock and general game mismanagement, coupled with cumbersome media soundbites, made him a laughing stock at times during his tenure in Denver. He never appeared to lose his locker-room, and even star names such as Von Miller had genuine affection for their head coach as a person. Ultimately, most in the locker-room fully understood that in order to win he simply had to be replaced and have since completely bought into the “death by inches” Fangio coaching mantra.
More so than simply changing coaching staff, Elway needed to arrest a decline in his own organization and how it is perceived nationally. One of the NFL’s crown jewel franchises having back-to-back losing seasons was deemed as being unacceptable.
New Broncos’ Offensive Coordinator Rick Scangerallo has the remit to open up the offense and has some young talented players to work with, particularly Philip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton. By trading for a veteran, Super Bowl winning quarterback in Joe Flacco, he will now have a proven quarterback to work with.
Elway has put a much larger emphasis on offense in the draft process also. The arrival of tight-end Noah Fant, and Drew Lock as the team’s quarterback of the future, showed Elway’s willingness to arrest the offence’s decline since Manning’s departure.
Second-round pick Dalton Risner and free-agent right-tackle Ja’wuan James addressed the longstanding Achilles heel of the offensive line. Perhaps this position group, and how far they progress, will really hold the key to the entire success of the new Bronco regime.
By tempting offensive line coach Mike Munchak to the Broncos, Elway has perhaps pulled off a master stroke. Munchak is known throughout the NFL as the number one offensive line coach, and is tasked with saving former number one draft pick, Garret Boles, as well as re-tooling the entire line. His past success in Pittsburgh all points to his ability to pull it off.
Elway will count on his new staff to return some swagger and coaching smarts to a Broncos organization desperate to return to the elite level.