After three years in charge of the Broncos, Vic Fangio is out as the Denver coach.
The Broncos made the announcement that they had “parted ways” with Fangio on Sunday. The decision came less than 24 hours after Denver’s 28-24 loss to the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon, which dropped the team to 7-10 on the season.
“For the last three years, Vic put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos,” team president Joe Ellis said in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to the organization since the day he was hired.”
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Fangio posted a 19-30 record during his three years with the Broncos. He never had a winning season and was unable to lead the team to the playoffs. His defense often played well, twice finishing as a top-10 scoring unit, but the team’s offense sputtered as a carousel of seven different quarterbacks started during Fangio’s tenure. That’s one of the major reasons that Denver fired him.
As such, the Broncos will begin the search for a new coach and should be an attractive landing spot. They have a strong roster and just need to find a quarterback to become potential contenders in the AFC. Below are several coaching candidates who could help Denver do just that.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Chiefs
Bieniemy has long been one of the hot names on the coaching market, and this may finally be the year that he is hired as a head coach. The 52-year-old has served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator since Matt Nagy took the Bears’ coaching job four years ago and has kept the Chiefs’ offense machine humming.
Kansas City’s offense has consistently ranked as a top-five unit under Bieniemy’s watch. They have made it to two Super Bowls, winning one, and Patrick Mahomes rapidly became the NFL’s best quarterback working with Bieniemy and Andy Reid.
The Broncos can get a bright, offensive-minded coach in Bieniemy while poaching a valuable resource from a division rival. That should make him a top candidate for this position.
Jim Harbaugh, head coach, Michigan
Harbaugh, 58, is reportedly examining a jump back to the NFL after leading Michigan to its first College Football Playoff appearance. He has four years of experience as an NFL coach, and his .695 winning percentage (44-19-1 record) ranks fifth-best in NFL history behind Hall of Famers Guy Chamberlain, John Madden, Vince Lombardi and George Allen.
During his four-year tenure with the 49ers, Harbaugh led the team to a Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. He helped transform Smith from a bust into a solid starter, while Kaepernick posted his two best seasons under Harbaugh.
Harbaugh’s track record developing quarterbacks is strong, and he himself has 14 years of experience as an NFL quarterback. Denver would certainly value both of those elements while considering Harbaugh. The only complication here could be his relationship with Fangio, who served as his defensive coordinator during his final year at Stanford and during their four years together with the 49ers.
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Cowboys
The Broncos aren’t guaranteed to pursue an offensive-minded coach. That might be their lean, but they could also opt to bring in another defense-first coach to keep the strength of their team in order.
Quinn could be a fit in that situation. He has extensive experience as both a defensive coordinator and head coach at the NFL level. He was one of the architects of the “Legion of Boom” for the Seahawks Super Bowl teams in 2013 and ’14. He then became the Falcons coach and led them to a Super Bowl appearance during the 2017 NFL playoffs. His performance slipped during his final two-plus seasons in Atlanta, but he still has a career record of 43-42 as a coach and has reinvented himself with the Cowboys.
Quinn, 51, took a Cowboys defense that ranked near the bottom of most defensive categories in 2020 and turned it into a top-10 scoring defense. He helped incorporate Micah Parsons into the stop unit and coached up Randy Gregory and Trevon Diggs to create a strong defense. Denver could rely on him to keep their defense playing well while hoping an offensive coordinator change could spark the offense.
When the Falcons made the Super Bowl under Quinn, he had Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel on the staff. If Quinn can replicate that type of offensive staff, the Broncos could be sold on bringing him aboard.
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Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator, Alabama
The end of O’Brien’s time with the Texans wasn’t pretty, but he has gained steam as a potential coaching candidate after spending time with Nick Saban at Alabama. O’Brien, 52, continues to prove he is a good offensive mind and has a good track record with quarterbacks. He helped turn Deshaun Watson into a strong starter and posted a winning record in five of his seven seasons with the Texans.
O’Brien’s big mistakes in Houston came when he was in charge of personnel. In Denver, George Paton would continue to have final say on the roster, so that could mitigate some of the risks in adding a guy like O’Brien. He would certainly help the team’s offense and could, perhaps, sell the disgruntled Watson on a trade to Denver during the offseason.
Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Packers
So, you want to improve the quarterback possession, eh? Well, why not take a look at Nathaniel Hackett? The Packers’ offensive coordinator has been in the NFL since 2013 with stops in Buffalo, Jacksonville and Green Bay. At every stop, he has improved the team’s quarterback play.
With the Bills, Hackett, 42, helped make Kyle Orton look like a competent quarterback. In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles put together his best season under Hackett in 2017. With the Packers, Hackett has helped guide Aaron Rodgers to a career resurgence, as he won the 2020 NFL MVP (and may win the award again in 2021).
Hackett’s connection to Rodgers could also be intriguing, given the uncertainty surrounding the latter’s future with the Packers. If Rodgers demands a trade away from the Packers, Denver would certainly be interested in his services, and having Hackett could give them a leg up on the competition to acquire him.
Mike Zimmer, head coach, Vikings
Zimmer, 65, may seem like a strange fit on paper. He is very similar to Fangio in his old-school, defense-first mindset, so he wouldn’t represent much of a change from the now-former Broncos coach.
That said, Zimmer has a connection to Paton, who worked with the Vikings for 14 years before joining the Broncos. As such, Paton could interview him to see if he would be a potential fit in Denver. Zimmer has a 71-56-1 career record and has never finished a season with fewer than seven wins.
The Broncos’ defense would continue to play at a high level under Zimmer, but questions would remain about the state of the offense. His name isn’t as strong an option for the Broncos for that reason, but don’t be surprised if he lands an interview.