It’s easy to forget just how many teams Vic Fangio has coached in some way.
Peyton Manning hasn’t forgotten.
In the final game of his first year in the NFL - a season in which Manning earned the NFL record for most interceptions thrown by a rookie QB - the young quarterback faced Vic Fangio’s Panthers’ defense.
And it didn’t go well.
“It was not a great game...but I think we might have had a chance to get back in it, and I was trying to throw the ball away and didn’t throw high enough and Eric Davis intercepted it,” Manning recalled on Thursday at Dove Valley. “It was a fitting ending to a pretty miserable season.”
But Manning got the benefit of that Fangio defensive mind the following season when the no-nonsense coach joined the Colts as the defensive coordinator under Jim Mora.
And No. 18 was quick to give Fangio a lot of credit for the team’s turnaround that year.
“He’s super competitive, and he wanted to win every practice against the offense,” Manning said during a chat with media while visiting OTAs. “We went from 3-13 to 13-3, and a lot of that had to do with Vic solidifying the defense, which really helped the offense.”
There were a few times, however, Manning didn’t quite appreciate Fangio’s competitive nature. He described a particular practice where the defense was holding a lot, and Manning didn’t like it.
“They would have the upper hand a lot in practice. And it could be irritating,” Manning joked. “I was probably complaining a lot. [Fangio] put a plate of wine and cheese in my locker. He didn’t say it was him, but I knew it was him.”
Manning also discovered back then what the Broncos players are learning right now - Fangio is not about to waste practice time heaping praise on players.
“If you get a compliment from Vic Fangio, you’ve done something special,” Manning added. “He’s all football. He loves it. He’s a grinder. I think he’ll do a great job.”
That competitive “all football” nature - more than his defensive mind - is why Manning believes Fangio will be able to restore winning ways in Denver.
“I think coaches don’t like being labeled an offensive coach, defensive coach ... VIc is a football coach,” Manning said, adding that if Fangio were asked to “be an offensive coordinator or receivers coach,” he could do it because he can coach football. “But he happens to be one of the great defensive minds in the game, and I think he’ll be a great leader of the entire team, not just one side of the ball.”
And there’s no doubt in Manning’s mind that Fangio impressed John Elway with that mindset.
“Obviously I think Vic earned John’s respect and impressed him in that interview. He impressed him by being who he is. He probably wore that same gray sweatsuit that he has out there at practice - ‘Just get me into my coaching gear and my headset and my whistle and let’s go,’” Manning said.
“He hasn’t changed one bit since 1999 in Indianapolis. That’s what John saw - ‘this guy’s a football coach, and we need to get back to playing solid fundamental football around here,’” Manning added. “That’s what wins games and that’s been the core of what the Broncos have been about, and I think Vic will bring that to Denver.”
And any player not ready for that approach just might find a plate of wine and cheese in his locker.