The Broncos have made Vic Fangio the first coach to feel the sting of "Black Monday," though the organization didn't bother waiting to fire the third-year coach, announcing the decision to fire him ahead of Sunday's games following the Broncos' 28-24 loss to the Chiefs on Saturday.
The loss dropped Denver to 7-10 on the season, marking the third straight losing campaign with Fangio at the helm. Even so, the Broncos held a slim — if improbable — chance at making the playoffs ahead of the Week 17 slate of games. But a 34-13 loss to the Chargers officially eliminated the team from contention, making Saturday's game little more than a glorified scrimmage, apart from affecting draft order.
It's easy to point to Fangio's subpar 19-30 record as the reason for his firing, but there were obvious underlying issues at play in Denver, most notably the Broncos' inability to run an effective offense, particularly at the quarterback position. Those issues likely factored heavily into Denver's decision.
With that, Sporting News breaks down why the Broncos decided to move on from Fangio after just his third season at the helm:
Why did Broncos fire Vic Fangio?
Both Broncos president Joe Ellis and general manager George Paton release statements in the wake of Fangio's firing, thanking him for his work and laying the foundation for future Denver teams:
“George will have full authority to select the next head coach of the Broncos. This is his decision and his program.”#Broncos Pres./CEO Joe Ellis on parting ways with Vic Fangio: pic.twitter.com/a6rgUrqFof— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 9, 2022
“With the foundation in place, the progress that’s been made and the resources we have to get better, I’m excited about the future of our team. We will find an outstanding leader and head coach for the Broncos and our fans.”
GM George Paton on parting ways with Vic Fangio: pic.twitter.com/P8Ztj3PUBm
Fangio also released a statement, thanking the Broncos and suggesting a foundation is already in place for the team to compete in future seasons.
Despite the work Fangio did to build up the team's roster, the Broncos never won more than seven games in a season with him at the helm, going 7-9 in 2019, 5-11 in 2020 and 7-10 in 2021. The best the team has finished in the AFC West was second, in Fangio's first season; they finished fourth in 2020 and '21.
A significant factor in the Broncos' record under Fangio has been his inability to get good offensive production. Below are the Broncos' year-by-year offensive numbers and corresponding rankings from 2019-21; they finished in the bottom half of the league every year in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense and never finished better than 12th in rushing offense.
|Year||Total offense||Passing offense||Rushing offense||Scoring offense|
|2019||298.6 ypg (28th)||194.7 ypg (28th)||103.9 ypg (20th)||17.6 ppg (28th)|
|2020||335.6 (23rd)||215.7 (26th)||119.9 (13th)||20.2 ppg (28th)|
|2021||330.5 (19th)||211.4 (19th)||119.1 (12th)||19.7 (22nd)|
A significant part of that has been the teams' inability to find a franchise quarterback, something which Fangio himself pointed out in explaining the distance between the Broncos and the remainder of the AFC West. Fangio has cycled through six quarterbacks in three seasons, including Joe Flacco, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, among others.
Bridgewater in 2021 had the best season of any of those quarterbacks, completing 285 of 426 passes (66.9 percent) for 3,052 yards and 18 yards to seven interceptions. He also added 106 yards and two scores en route to leading the Broncos to a 7-7 record. Drew Lock, who got the other three starts for the Broncos this season, went 0-3 while completing 67 of 111 passes (60.4 percent) for 787 yards and two touchdowns to two interceptions.
If the Broncos want to take the next step toward playoff and Super Bowl contention, it must find a franchise quarterback to lead the way. The Broncos have three potential quarterbacks they could target in trades this offseason, including the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, Packers' Aaron Rodgers and Texans' Deshaun Watson. Indeed, Rodgers was tied to Denver ahead of the 2021 season, with many speculating he could play for the Broncos before his eventual return to the Packers.
The person who ultimately takes over for Fangio will be tasked with finding the team's quarterback of the future, either through trades, free agency or the 2022 NFL Draft.
Who will replace Vic Fangio in Denver?
Denver has no shortage of candidates to choose from when it comes to replacing Fangio, either in the form of former NFL head coaches or assistants ready to make the move up to head coach for the first time. Considering Fangio's proclivity for defense, it's likely Paton will reverse course and go for an offensive-minded coach.
One candidate is Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has worked with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid to create one of the NFL's most potent offenses. The fact teams have continued to pass him by has raised eyebrows; will the Broncos attempt to become stronger by making their AFC West opponents weaker?
Other options include former 49ers coach — and current coach — Jim Harbaugh, who led San Francisco to a Super Bowl in just his second season in 2012. Bill O'Brien — former Texans coach and current Alabama offensive coordinator — could also be an interesting candidate, especially considering his biggest shortcomings in Houston were related to his role as general manager. O'Brien may not be interested in a team that does not have an obvious quarterback of the future, however.
Vic Fangio contract
Fangio signed a four-year contract in 2019, with a team option for 2023. Fangio didn't make it to the fourth year of his original contract, which averaged $5.5 million in salary per year.