ENGLEWOOD | Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has decided on Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as his new head coach, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hadn’t announced the hiring.
Fangio is a first-time head coach at age 60.
He replaces Vance Joseph, who posted the franchise’s first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72 and was fired on New Year’s Eve with an 11-21 record.
Fangio has been an NFL assistant for 32 years and for 34 years overall, including two years in the old USFL.
Elway also interviewed former Colts coach Chuck Pagano, Steelers O-line coach Mike Munchak, Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores and Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor while searching for his fourth head coach in six seasons.
Elway said he also plans to take a self-assessment this month to review the moves he’s made that have led to Denver’s three-year playoff drought since Peyton Manning retired a month after the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 title.
The Broncos have had four starting quarterbacks over that span, including free agent Case Keenum, who was underwhelming in his first year in Denver in 2018.
Elway concurred with star cornerback Chris Harris Jr.’s assessment last week that the Broncos need to modernize their offensive and defensive schemes to keep up with teams such as the Rams and Chiefs, who have fully embraced the run-pass option craze and other college concepts.
Elway didn’t believe that innovation required a young up-and-comer, however. So, instead of going with a fresh-faced offensive-minded coach in the mold of the Rams’ Sean McVay, he zeroed in on the grizzled teacher who’s more like his first head coaching hire, John Fox, or the Chiefs’ Andy Reid.
Elway, who turns 59 this summer, and Fangio, who turns 61 in August, will make up one of the oldest coach-GM duos in the NFL in 2019.
Fangio has 19 years of coordinating experience for the Panthers, Colts, Texans, 49ers and Bears. He’s built dominant defenses in different eras, successfully adapting to changes in personnel, philosophies and style.
The 2018 season was his best as Fangio guided a defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowed a league-low 17.7 points per game and led the Bears into the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Four Chicago defenders were selected to the Pro Bowl under his watch in 2018: pass rusher Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson, lineman Akiem Hicks and cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Much as former Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips used to draw praise from players less than half his age, Fangio was greatly respected in the Bears’ locker room.
“He’s an evil genius,” Mack told NFL.com in November. “The guy knows the game in and out and he knows his players, and ultimately, he wants the best for us out there on the field, so he puts us in positions to make plays.”
The Bears’ playoff run came to a shocking end Sunday night when Cody Parkey’s last-second field-goal attempt was tipped and bounced off the left upright and the crossbar for his 11th miss of the season, sealing Philadelphia’s 16-15 escape in the wild-card round.
The Eagles had taken the lead when Nick Foles hit Golden Tate with a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 56 seconds remaining against the NFL’s stingiest defense.
Broncos star linebacker Von Miller suggested last month that the Bears’ defense could lead Chicago to the Super Bowl title much as Denver’s defense had three years ago — even in an age of potent offenses capitalizing on ever friendlier rules to run up scores.
“The Bears have been doing it right. They get takeaways, they play tight coverage and they got a great run defense,” Miller said. “I feel like the Bears definitely got a defense that can go all the way.”
Instead, the Bears’ season ended earlier than expected and now the man Mack dubbed an “evil genius” will join Miller in Denver.