As the 2019 season for the Broncos approaches the end, head coach Vic Fangio is beginning to remind me of the Wade Phillips. Just not the Wade Phillips you want him to be compared to.
In his first season as head coach in 1993, Phillips finished 9-7 and the Broncos played in the wild card round of the playoffs. Prior to the 1994 season, the Broncos signed star wide receiver Anthony Miller and traded for a wide receiver who was a former first-round pick, Mike Pritchard.
On paper, the Broncos were better and expectations were high.
Instead of getting better, the Broncos got worse. They started the season 0-4. In those four losses, the Broncos failed on final drives to tie the Chargers and Bills, lost in overtime to the Jets and were blown out by the Raiders. They could have been easily been 3-1.
In Week 6, the Broncos lost on “Monday Night Football” to the Chiefs. The game is the famous duel between John Elway and Joe Montana, which ended with Montana leading Kansas City to a game-winning drive after Denver took the lead on an Elway touchdown.
In fact, of the Broncos nine losses that season, six were by one score. You could argue that the Broncos were very close to being a playoff team if they could just “learn to finish.”
After starting the season 0-4, Phillips’ team went 7-5 the rest of the way. The team was loaded with talent. They had future Hall of Famers in Elway, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman on the offensive side of the ball. And they boasted should-be Hall of Famer Steve Atwater was on the defensive side.
In the middle of the season, the Broncos managed a four-game winning streak before an injury to Elway. The star quarterback would miss two-and-a-half games. Had Elway been healthy, the Broncos may have been able to pull off at least one more victory.
Given that team won more than they lost after a disastrous start, the injury to Elway, the talent on the roster and a playoff appearance in the previous season, an argument could have been made that Phillips deserved to stay on as head coach.
But literally nobody was making this argument. Nobody was pointing to the close losses as a sign of great things to come. The games the Broncos lost in 1994 were looked at for what they were, a failure.
Nobody made the argument for Phillips to stay on as head coach and the reason was simple: Phillips was not a good head coach.
This 2019 Broncos team resembles the team of 1994 in many ways.
They began the season 0-4. There is a good chance they finish 7-9. Despite the narrative that the team is depleted of talent, the current Broncos have plenty of talent. (If you don’t believe the current Broncos team has talent, then stop complaining about Pro Bowl snubs.)
One difference between 1994 and 2019 teams is that Phillips was held accountable for the team’s performance. I remember being 10 years old, sitting in the stands and hearing fans chant “Wade Must Go! Wade Must Go!”
Despite six losses by one score, the 1994 season is not known as “the one that got away.” Nobody looks back on that year as “what could’ve been.” We see it for what it was, an awful season that we like to forget.
Furthermore, exactly zero people have ever said the Broncos were wrong for firing Phillips.
I think Broncos Country feels the same way about 2019. The 19,000 no-shows against the Chargers is evidence of the disgust fans have with the current state of the franchise.
There is one difference between 1994 and 2019. Vic Fangio is not being held to the same standard as we held Wade Phillips.
Despite the disdain for the team’s performance, Fangio has escaped blame for the Broncos bad season. The Broncos had the best roster they’ve had since the Super Bowl and have still looked below average for the majority of the season.
The 1994 team suffered close losses and two embarrassing defeats. The previously mentioned Week 3 loss to the Raiders was a 48-16 beatdown. This loss was so bad that it likely sealed Phillips fate as head coach.
The 2019 Broncos have suffered a variety of embarrassing losses. Particularly, the two losses to the Chiefs. In both games, Andy Reid coached circles around Fangio.
In the ultimate flex of coaching superiority, Reid was able to carve up Fangio, in Denver, on a Thursday night, without Patrick Mahomes. This game was bad enough that it could have sealed Fangio’s fate as head coach of the Broncos.
In the second match-up with the Chiefs, Reid and Mahomes were able to dictate the entire game to the Broncos defense. The game as played in a blizzard that only seemed to affect the Broncos.
Twice this season, the Broncos have rode two-game winning streaks into a Chiefs game only to have their doors blown off for four quarters. With Fangio walking the sideline, the Chiefs will forever remain confident they will beat the Broncos.
In Phillips first season as head coach, the team achieved a modest level of success. Fangio’s first season is a disaster with close losses, embarrassing losses and reports of Fangio being at the center of dysfunction.
Phillips took his team to the playoffs in his first season. That was not enough to absolve him of the terrible second season. So I’m confused as to what Fangio has done to place him above criticism. Fangio has no track record of success as a head coach, so all we know is that he’s coached a losing team.
Fangio will be back as Broncos head coach in 2020. He deserves the chance to get a second season. There were injuries and a messy quarterback situation. Justin Simmons, Shelby Harris and A.J. Johnson all improved under his coaching. However, the team needs to be much improved next season for Fangio to prove he should be kept around for a third.
Nobody is acknowledging that Fangio has to improve before his second season. Fangio should be on the hot seat going into 2020. It’s perfectly acceptable to demand that he improve.
I sincerely hope that John Elway and Joe Ellis or whoever makes decisions are expressing to Fangio that on multiple occasions this season, the Broncos performance was unacceptable.
There shouldn’t be an assumption that Fangio will be better in his second season. Phillips was worse from his first to second season. Everybody was okay with him in 1993, they were done in 1994.
If Fangio continues to coach the team the way he has, at some point, Broncos fans and media will need to stop lying to themselves and admit Vic Fangio is not a good head coach. Just like we did with Wade Phillips in 1994.