Broncos' out-of-the-box hiring of Vic Fangio validated by Super Bowl

During a time when everyone else seems to be leaning toward high-scoring offense, the Broncos have gone the other way. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Now that the brand-new head coaches in the NFL have all been formally introduced with a flurry of ubiquitous "It's a new day" quotes, it is abundantly clear the Denver Broncos zigged when everyone else zagged.

The Broncos didn't pick a young, up-and-coming assistant. They didn't pick the latest and greatest offensive playcaller.

They didn't even pick a guy who had been a head coach before in the league.

No, they picked Vic Fangio, a 60-year-old first-time head coach -- at any level -- who has built a substantial and well-respected résumé on the defensive side of the ball. Add that up, and it is the no-nonsense, been-around-the-block-a-whole-lot-of-times Fangio who just might be the league's most out-of-the-box hire this time around.

Following the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, perhaps the idea was well-founded.

"I tried to go into it with the most open mind possible," said Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway. "We weren't necessarily looking to do what everybody else was or what everybody else wasn't. We wanted to make the best decision for the Denver Broncos, and Vic was that guy."

Fangio doesn't exude a new-age approach, and he already has joked about preferring sweatpants to anything he wore during his whirlwind introduction tour last month. But that doesn't mean he hasn't evolved in how he thinks about the game.

His defenses have been among the league's best over the course of several changes in offensive thinking. As offenses changed, Fangio has changed to stop them.

"I've said he just wants people to be responsible to the team, in every drill, every practice, every game," said Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, a longtime Fangio assistant.

This past season, when three different teams topped the 500-point mark -- long historical ground for offenses, as just 22 have reached the benchmark in the Super Bowl era -- Fangio's Chicago Bears led the league in both scoring defense (17 points per game) and takeaways (36), while also being one of the least penalized units in the league.

It was Fangio's success over the long haul -- his ability to adjust, innovate, teach and succeed across more than three decades in the league -- that caught Elway's eye. It also was Fangio's promise to sweat the details and the belief players can be taught to sweat those details now just as they could 25 years ago.

"We're not going to cut any corners," Fangio said. "I'm a fundamentals coach. I think the game of the NFL everybody thinks has changed and it's a high-scoring league, et cetera, but fundamentals is still what wins in this league. 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."

And Super Bowl LIII is now, suddenly, Exhibit A of all that. A so-called "less talented" New England Patriots team ended a season of romance for offenses around the league with a no-frills, assignment-sound slugfest to win the sixth Super Bowl of coach Bill Belichick's tenure with a gold-star defensive performance.

An easy argument could be made that the two best coaches on the field Sunday night were the 66-year-old Belichick and the Rams' 71-year-old defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips.

Fangio said he didn't stress that it took so long to get his first chance at a head-coaching job. In fact, it was only his third interview for a head-coaching vacancy. He said he was more worried about how he did his job than what other people thought.

"I don't want to use the word dream," Fangio said just after he was hired. "It's obviously something I've thought about throughout my career at various times, but I was comfortable enough in my own skin that it didn't have to happen. I was happy with being a defensive coordinator in the NFL for close to 20 years. If a good situation ever arose and I matched what a certain team was looking for, I'd be all in. I believe I've found that here, and I'm all in."

And with a most unexpected defense-first Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, the Broncos are all in too.