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A no-nonsense coach, Vic Fangio promises no ‘death by inches’ for this Broncos team

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The long-time coordinator getting his first head coaching gig is very clear about his approach - focusing on fundamentals.

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Vic Fangio didn’t own a suit.

Or a tie.

Because when you haven’t been a head coach in the NFL - but you’ve essentially been “behind the scenes” of a head coach for 32 years - what’s the point?

“I talked to George McCaskey [Chicago Bears chairman] yesterday, and I said to him, ‘George, can I do the press conference tomorrow in my grey sweats?’ He calls them my grey business suit. He said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ So, he gave me this tie to wear. This tie is complements of George McCaskey and the Chicago Bears.”

But now Fangio owns a suit.

And a head coaching gig.

A gig he was offered primarily because he coaches the same way he selects his wardrobe - with absolutely zero nonsense.

In a league where the “hot young offensive genius” has been the coaching trend, Fangio makes a solid case for his “good fundamentals” approach before anything else.

Asked how he “envisions” himself as a head coach after decades of being a coordinator, Fangio was undaunted by the implication.

“You guys will be here daily with us once we get back on the field, and you’ll be able to figure that out yourself,” he lectured. “But we’re not going to cut any corners. I’m a fundamentals coach.”

For proof of success with that, just consider Fangio’s Bears’ defense this season. Boasting the fewest defensive holding and unnecessary roughness penalties of any team in the league, Chicago ranked third in total defense (299.7 yards), first in rush defense (80 yards per game), first in points per game (17.7 points per game), third in sacks (50), first in interceptions with 27 (the next closest was 21) and seventh in passing (219.7 yards per game).

Also note, Fangio’s Bears held Sean “hot young offensive genius” McVay’s Rams to six points.

“We have to evolve on defense to defend what the offenses are doing. There has been evolution. I don’t want to get into the X and O details because you probably wouldn’t understand them anyway, and I don’t want to give an opponent any insight into my thinking,” he said (with my favorite quote of the presser), noting that the biggest trend has been substituting fullbacks and a second tight end with a third wide receiver. “The game has trended towards the speed of the wide receivers and spreading it out.”

So Fangio has adapted his defensive scheme. But he has not changed his approach.

“Everybody thinks [the NFL game] has changed and it’s a high-scoring league, etc., but fundamentals is still what wins in this league,” Fangio emphasized. “I’m going to stress those, we’re not going to cut any corners, there will be no death by inches. We’re going to stress fundamentals.”

The “death by inches” phrase caught on quickly in the press room and on social media — perhaps because those three words described the Broncos’ 2018 season to a tee. Heck, it’s even a shirt you can buy now!

Whether it was coming up a few points short, missing a first down by a half a foot, barely missing the uprights, having a penalty negate a great play, the Broncos seemed to own the turf when it came to making a mistake at the worst possible time.

But Fangio stressed that those big losses stem from little mistakes - and it can begin from something as simple as being 30 seconds late to a team meeting.

“That act in it of itself really has no impact on whether you’re going to win or lose that week,” Fangio said. “But if you let it slide, the next day there’s two or three guys late or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems. That’s ‘death by inches.’”

And Fangio has no intention of letting any player slide. After all, a brand new coach who feels confident enough in his first presser to say that the team’s star player can “play even better” has some serious confidence in his ability to get this team back on track.

In fact, that was possibly Fangio’s greatest selling point to Broncos’ GM John Elway during his interview Monday.

As relayed by Andrew Mason of denverbroncos.com, Elway had told Derek Wolfe while the two were working out at the UC Health Center on Thursday that Fangio would “bring the discipline the Broncos had been lacking.”

“Those inches add up, and when those inches add up, you’re in a losing program,” Elway said to Wolfe. “[Fangio] says, ‘I promise you, we will not kill ourselves by inches.’ And I thought that was the best thing that he said in the interview.”

Shelby Harris certainly thought it was the best thing the new head coach said in the presser too.

“That ‘death by inches’ thing is literally, I feel like, our season. Little things, little things, little things add up,” Harris told denverbroncos.com. “Little things lose you one game, and the ‘death by inches’ thing is as simple as, you can be 6-10 or 10-6. A couple of little things can change all that. And I feel like attention to detail about all that stuff will help bring us back to who we really are.”

For those wondering how Elway could offer a 60-year-old coordinator who has never been a head coach in the NFL the playbook for next season, that’s how.

Longtime San Francisco 49ers beat reporter Tim Kawakami remembers how well Fangio coached the Niners, saying “no coach that I’ve ever covered has more reliably put his guys in the right spots — and taught those guys the overall strategy and logic of it — than Fangio.”

And Kawakami believes Fangio is “more than ready” to be a head coach.

“He’s a coaches’ coach — he’ll put together a great staff and already reportedly is set up with former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak as either his offensive coordinator or lead advisor,” Kawakami said. “And he’s a players’ coach. Again, I don’t know if Fangio will win big, but I know things will be organized and the players will swear by him. That’s a good start.”

Fangio knows that fans and the organization will measure his success by wins and losses. He’s fine with that, but his measurement of success goes deeper.

“It’s my goal and purpose to make every individual player improve and get better. If we do that within that position group, that position group will be better. We do that, that side of the ball—whether it be offense, special teams or defense—will be better,” he said. “Ultimately, we’ll have a better team which will lead to a better record. You’ve got to start from the ground up.”

Based on the myriad of quotes from Fangio’s former players saying they played their best football under his tutelage, this “ground up” approach has worked extremely well so far - and Fangio knows it.

“You give them their assignments. Once they’ve mastered their assignments, you now teach them the correct techniques with which you execute those assignments,” he said about developing young talent - something the Broncos have in spades. “If you do a great job of coaching them, the players will realize that, they will buy in and they will execute for you to the maximum of their abilities.”

OK, coach, you can take your suit and tie off now.

I’ve bought in too.