By Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press
Vic Fangio was fired on Sunday morning as coach of the Denver Broncos after going 19-30 in three seasons.
Team president and CEO Joe Ellis, who will step down later this year, said general manager George Paton will have “full authority to select the next head coach.”
“This morning, George and I informed Vic of the decision to part ways with him as head coach,” Ellis said in a statement. “For the last three seasons, Vic put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos. I want to thank Coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to our organization since the day he was hired.”
Fangio released his own statement in which he thanked the organization and fans and praised Paton as one of the NFL’s top GMs: “Broncos fans, you have a great one in George.”
Fangio said he appreciated the team’s “fight and character you showed each and every week.
No matter the adversity, circumstances or challenges we faced, you never backed down. I am proud to be associated with this group of fighters and competitors.”
And he reiterated that the franchise is on the cusp of returning to greatness.
“The foundation is in place for this team to accomplish great things,” he said. “The future is bright for the Denver Broncos, and I wish the organization nothing but the best.”
The Broncos lost their final four games to finish 7-10, capped by a 28-24 loss to Kansas City on Saturday in which they blew a fourth-quarter lead and extended their losing streak against the Chiefs to 13 games.
Fangio met with Paton ahead of the season finale and laid out his plan to fix the Broncos’ myriad problems that extended the team’s playoff drought to six seasons and string of losing records to five years.
Fangio led Denver to a 5-11 mark last season and went 7-9 in 2019 after he replaced Vance Joseph, who was fired after two losing seasons.
Fangio got the job after more than three decades as an assistant, and he burnished his reputation as a defensive master during his time in Denver. But the Broncos didn’t win, and that cost him his job.
Fangio and Paton hit it off when Paton was hired last year to replace John Elway. They saw eye-to-eye on the draft and many felt their close relationship would help Fangio survive a third losing season.
“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 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.”
Fangio isn’t expected to be out of work long. He will be a candidate for a defensive coordinator job in the new round of coaching changes this month.
Fangio’s creative schemes helped the Broncos thwart some of the best young quarterbacks even when his defense was depleted by injuries or COVID-19. The long list of QBs who have had some of the toughest days of their careers against Fangio’s teams include Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes.
Last month, the Broncos held Joe Burrow to 157 yards passing. Burrow followed that tough afternoon with a two-game stretch against Baltimore and Kansas City in which he threw for a combined 971 yards and eight touchdowns.
Yet Fangio’s teams struggled mightily on offense and special teams and his game management skills, including use of timeouts, challenges and clock handling, came into question in all three of his seasons in Denver.
The Broncos averaged better than 10,000 no-shows over their final six home games, including nearly 15,000 Saturday, a sign the fanbase had grown frustrated with Fangio.
The Broncos were still in the mix of the AFC’s crowded playoff field in mid-December before losing their final four games.
Asked Saturday about his 5-13 record in the AFC West that includes an 0-6 mark against the Chiefs, Fangio said, “Well those other three teams have top-shelf quarterbacks, which is obvious to everybody.”
Equally obvious is how the Broncos have failed to find their own premier passer, swinging and missing on the likes of Paxton Lynch, Drew Lock, Case Keenum and Joe Flacco.
The Broncos have churned through 10 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning’s retirement a month after Denver’s win in Super Bowl 50, 11 if you include running back Phillip Lindsay, who started against New Orleans in 2020 when all four of Denver’s quarterbacks were in COVID-19 protocols.
One of Paton’s first moves as GM was to acquire veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who went 7-7 as Denver’s starter before missing the final three games with a concussion.
Lock, the starter in 2020, lost all three of his starts despite not turning the ball over after committing an NFL-high 18 turnovers last season.
Paton is expected to focus his efforts this offseason on finding the Broncos’ sixth different starting QB in six seasons.
Thanks to his trade of Von Miller to the Rams, he has 11 draft picks, including five in the top 100, to either restock his roster or use as chips to acquire a veteran via a trade. He’ll also have nearly $70 million in cap space to sign free agents.
With so much repair work ahead, Paton added to his plate a search for a head coach, and now the team will have to start from scratch on both offense and defense.