ENGLEWOOD | Vic Fangio’s first training camp in Denver has been rather quiet.
That’s by design. The Broncos’ new coach isn’t a big fan of yelling, so he mothballed the giant speakers that used to thrum throughout practice, requiring everybody to shout over the music to be heard.
He actually instructed his assistants to zip it during team drills, too, so that players on the field have to coach themselves up just as they do in games.
The 61-year-old rookie head coach who has spent more than half his life in the NFL is endearing himself to Broncos fans and players alike. He’s demonstrating a mix of concepts both old-fashioned and newfangled while finally employing his philosophies formulated over four decades as a defensive assistant.
Fangio, hired away from Chicago, where he was the Bears’ highly touted defensive coordinator, dons baggy sweats on the sideline regardless of the weather and watches his team practice in tight, game-day jerseys, not the larger, looser ones most teams use at practice.
“The whole reason we do that is to cut down on the grabbing,” Fangio said. “When you wear the loose shirts, it’s very easy, almost unavoidable, for the players to grab each other. Whether it be wideouts, DBs, the interior linemen, it’s just so easy to grab those loose jerseys. It’s not easy to grab in the game because they’re tight.
“So we want to make it game-like as much as we can.”
That’s his maxim: only do the things that help you win games.
So, he’ll leave the loud music to the clubs and concerts.
“Anybody’s who’s been a position coach or an assistant coach, they don’t like the music because it makes it hard to talk to your guys, so I don’t see the benefit of having music out there,” Fangio said. “I was an assistant coach and I don’t want to have to drum out the noise to talk to my players.”
Besides, Fangio said, “there’s no music in games.”
And what about when he has to simulate crowd noise?
“It won’t be music,” Fangio said. “It will be noise. That’s what it is in the game. Noise by definition sounds annoying. Music sounds nice. So, if we have to deal with noise, let’s deal with noise.”
Yes, the sound of silence was one of the things Fangio kept in his mental file folder filled with things he’d like to do if he ever got the chance to be a head coach.
Fangio initially wanted to be one in high school, and he figured he was on his way when his first job out of college was tutoring linebackers at his alma mater, Dunmore High School in Pennsylvania in 1979. But he proved too good for preps and quickly moved on to the pros, where he spent 32 years as an assistant.
That includes 19 seasons as defensive coordinator, most recently for the Bears, where Khalil Mack lovingly labeled him an “evil genius” just as Richard Sherman had tagged him a “stone-cold killer” during his year’s sabbatical from the NFL at Stanford.
Fangio finally realized his dream of being a head coach when he won over John Elway in January with his “death by inches” philosophy, suggesting that inattention to detail is what derails teams.
“I promise you,” Fangio told Elway, “we will not kill ourselves by inches.”
Fangio smiled last week when receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton on consecutive days got on rookie tight end Noah Fant to play hard through the whistle.
“I like it. Peer pressure is better than coaching pressure,” Fangio said. “If you notice, most of the drills coaches are off to the side. I don’t want them screaming and hollering instructions out to the players. In the game, they’re out there on their own. We can’t be helping them in game, so don’t be helping them in practice.”
Fangio’s assistants save the corrections for individual drills or the classroom.
“So, it’s not like they’re not coaching them,” Fangio said. “But when the game’s being played, there’s 22 guys on the field, 11 on each side, and there’s very little coaching that can go on.”
It’s not just criticism that Fangio shuns. He doesn’t dole out many compliments at practice, either, although “when we sit in the meeting rooms, I’m very complimentary and very critical — whatever is deserving,” Fangio said.
Von Miller can attest to that.
“It’s not like if you do something good he’s just going to just overlook it,” Denver’s star linebacker said.
While other teams were hiring fuzzy-faced offensive hot shots this offseason, Elway chose the grizzled gridiron lifer, the defensive throwback.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe said he loves everything about Fangio, from his defensive schemes right down to his signature sweatshirt he rocks on these sweltering summer days.
“I think he is just an old-school guy,” Wolfe said. “I haven’t heard him tell a story about an old player post-1990. Everything is from like the ’80s.”
Yet he connects with players who weren’t even alive then.
“You’d think he was in his 10th year in a row being a head coach because everything clicks, it makes sense, there’s a purpose behind everything,” suggested safety Justin Simmons. “Practices are smooth, meetings are smooth and it all flows. You can tell he’s seasoned and he’s been around and what he likes and doesn’t like, and what works and doesn’t work.”