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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the second time in four years, the Denver Broncos’ ongoing postseason drought has cost the head coach his job.
The Broncos, after a 7-10 finish, fired Vic Fangio on Sunday as they missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said he informed Fangio of the decision during a conversation Sunday morning that also included general manager George Paton.
“For the last three seasons, Vic has put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos,” Ellis said in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to our organization since the day he was hired.
“George will have full authority to select the next head coach of the Broncos. This is his decision and his program. I have complete confidence in George’s ability to lead an exhaustive and successful head coaching search.
“We will give George every available resource and fully support him in hiring the very best head coach to lead the Broncos.”
The Broncos fired Fangio’s predecessor, Vance Joseph, following the 2018 season after two years on the job. He is currently the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Broncos’ defense finished among the league’s top 10 in almost every major category, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for a career-best 18 touchdowns despite missing the final three games with a concussion. But Denver’s balky offense and inconsistent special teams play ultimately cost Fangio his job.
The 63-year-old Fangio finished the third year of a four-year contract he signed when he replaced Joseph in 2019.
Fangio’s downfall, beyond his 19-30 record over his three seasons, was fueled by the still-ongoing search for a long-term solution at quarterback, a change at GM (Paton was hired to replace John Elway in 2021) and an almost constant struggle to score points. There has also been upheaval at the ownership level, which has included a legal battle, with the team expected to be sold in the coming year.
Fangio also faced some obstacles amid the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two seasons, including a 2020 loss to the New Orleans Saints in which the Broncos had none of their quarterbacks in uniform for the game.
“I have tremendous respect for Vic and all he’s accomplished in the NFL,” Paton said in a statement. “Over the past year, I appreciate his partnership, friendship and the tireless work ethic he demonstrated as our head coach.
“Vic will continue to have great success in this league, and I thank him for everything he did for the Broncos as well as me personally.”
The Broncos were 7-6 and squarely in the AFC’s muddled playoff race with four games remaining. Paton had said repeatedly in the season’s second half how much he respected Fangio and how much he enjoyed “working with Vic.”
But the last four games didn’t go well, as the Broncos lost every one. Denver has not played a postseason game since its Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season and hasn’t finished above .500 since a 9-7 finish in 2016.
Players had often said they appreciated Fangio’s honesty and straight-forward demeanor. But the turnstile at quarterback, another season of failing to average more than 23 points a game — they haven’t since 2014 — and more than a few more bobbles on special teams were too much for Fangio to overcome.
Bridgewater was the 10th different quarterback to start at least one game for the Broncos since Week 13 of the 2016 season, a total that doesn’t include running back Philip Lindsay opening behind center in the 2020 game versus the Saints.
Elway, who stepped down as the team’s chief football decision-maker after the 2020 season — he has remained as the president of football operations — hired Fangio with the hope of his discipline, accountability, teaching and expertise on the defensive side of the ball would be enough to snap the Broncos’ postseason drought.
At the time Elway called those things “the foundation of football,” and Fangio had waited decades for his first head coaching opportunity. Fangio had promised the details would matter and the Broncos would not suffer “death by inches.”
But even his hope of a dynamic pass rush duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb fueling the defense didn’t come to fruition. Chubb missed all but four games in the 2019 season with a torn ACL and Miller missed the entire 2020 season with an ankle injury.
Chubb then missed nine of the first 10 games this season after ankle surgery, and Patton traded Miller to the Los Angeles Rams in early November.
The Broncos will be an attractive landing spot for Fangio’s replacement with a young roster, plenty of salary cap space and 11 picks already in hand for this April’s draft.
“Looking ahead, there’s a lot of work to be done for us to take the next step,” Paton said in Sunday’s statement. “Winning is not easy, and we’re going to embrace the opportunity to improve in every single area of our operation.
“Our search to find the next head coach of the Broncos will be a comprehensive, collaborative process. We’re approaching it with an open mind and look forward to spending time with some outstanding candidates.”