Denver's season-ending loss to Kansas City didn't come without significant effort on the part of the Broncos, but was it enough to preserve Vic Fangio's job?
As of now, it wasn't enough to terminate him -- yet. Denver will likely come to a decision in the next 24 hours or so, and as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and James Palmer reported earlier Saturday, multiple league sources believe the Broncos will ultimately move on.
Fangio didn't seem too stressed about his future following the Broncos' 28-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The coach told reporters he did not know what was ahead for him, but that he had spoken with first-year general manager George Paton during the week leading up to Saturday's game. Fangio then responded to a question from ESPN's Jeff Legwold with some clarity.
"Everything," Fangio said when asked what he and Paton discussed. "I'll be good Legs [Jeff Legwold], don't worry about me."
If it was Fangio's finale as head coach of the Broncos, Denver certainly didn't give up on its coach.
The Broncos went toe to toe with the Chiefs for four quarters, overcoming an early deficit to take a 14-7 lead and keeping pace until a late turnover erased their chances of victory. So did a decision to settle for a field goal with less than five minutes remaining, relying on the belief the strength of Fangio's team -- his defense -- could get the Broncos a stop and deliver Drew Lock one more chance to win.
They did not and, as a result, Patrick Mahomes kneeling out the clock in Denver's red zone might end up being the final image of Fangio's tenure.
"They're a bunch of fighters and competitors and that's going to be the foundation that they have to build on," Fangio said when asked what Saturday's performance showed about his team. "And when we get a little bit better, play a little bit better, coach a little bit better, that foundation will carry us through."
The question now is whether Fangio will be around to see it through. Coaching a little better could include finding a different offensive coordinator to replace Pat Shurmur, who spent 2021 directing an offense that entered Week 18 ranked 19th in the league in total yards. Playing a little better could include identifying and acquiring a quarterback who is better than Lock or Teddy Bridgewater. The latter was good enough to lead the Broncos to victory on more than a few occasions but is headed to free agency, while the former wasn't effective enough to do so Saturday. And above all, after sending seven different signal-callers to the field in Fangio's tenure, what the Broncos need more than anything is stability under center.
Fangio's renowned defensive expertise showed in his 2021 Broncos, who had a unit good enough to reach the playoffs but didn't get enough complementary play to avoid losing 10 games. If he's terminated this week, Fangio will likely have a defensive coordinator job in no time.
Ideally, though, Fangio would like to remain the head coach of the Broncos after spending more than three decades as an assistant. He's played the same hit song many other coaches on hot seats have turned to in times of need, touting the completion of the ever-important foundation laid during his tenure. He'll need more patience from Paton and the rest of the Broncos brass to be able to build the house atop said foundation.
"We, the whole organization, take pride in that," Fangio said of his team's established culture. "Is it what we want? Is it good enough? No. But you can't think the things you're doing good aren't good enough because other things aren't good enough. OK? Those have got to stay there. And when you get good enough at other things, that's your foundation, if you follow what I'm saying."
What Fangio is saying is simple: Don't blow it up when we're just starting to make legitimate progress. We'll see if Paton ends up pushing the plunger or decides to give Fangio another chance this week.