ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Vic Fangio spent more than three decades as an NFL assistant waiting for this chance to be a head coach. Now, the Denver Broncos' new head man is working with players who are three -- and almost four -- decades younger than he is in a league that always seems to be looking for the Next Big Thing in the under-40 set.
The 60-year-old has introduced himself to his players by staying true to what he believes works in any era.
"Fundamentals and structure, and are you making them better?" Fangio said. "Ultimately, that is the question players will have: Are you making them better? Are they part of a team that does what needs to be done to be successful? I just believe if you're not good at the fundamentals, your schemes, your plans, will be affected. You won't give yourselves a chance to be successful."
Fangio doesn't sprinkle in pop culture references the way a 70-something Wade Phillips did during his time as Broncos defensive coordinator, and he doesn't have a playlist that matches that of his players. But Fangio has his own way to bridge the age gap. Linebacker Von Miller, who is playing for his fourth head coach, said it is a simple, direct approach.
"He's just real, he tells you straight, and that's it," Miller said. "When it's good, when it's bad, how to fix it, how to be better. We all appreciate that."
Former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has seen Fangio work up close. Fangio was an assistant with the New Orleans Saints when Manning was a high school prodigy working out at the team facility, and Fangio was defensive coordinator for three seasons (1999-2001) with the Indianapolis Colts while Manning was there.
Manning peeled back the curtain a bit on Fangio's matter-of-fact, competitive nature during a recent visit to practice. He said Fangio's authenticity is what players will notice first, and he joked that Fangio "probably wore that same gray sweatsuit" to his interview with the Broncos.
"I think he owns a couple of ties and a couple of suits," Manning joked. "... He hasn't changed one bit since 1999 in Indianapolis. I think that's what [general manager] John [Elway] saw: This guy's a football coach. We need to get back to playing solid, fundamental football around here. That's what wins games. That's kind of been the core of what the Denver Broncos have been about, and I think Vic will bring that to Denver."
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who has been with Fangio for eight seasons, said Fangio wants to put the players in "uncomfortable" situations. Manning added that Fangio will make every practice as competitive as possible, in every situation.
"We didn't have refs at practice back then, but I was probably complaining about they're holding our receivers, and Vic put a plate of wine and cheese in my locker. He didn't say it was him, but I knew it was him." Peyton Manning
"He tried to win every practice, and they would have the upper hand a lot at practice, and he really could be irritating," Manning said before recalling a specific incident. "I can't remember what I did. But it seems like they held a lot during one practice. We didn't have refs at practice back then, but I was probably complaining about they're holding our receivers, and Vic put a plate of wine and cheese in my locker. He didn't say it was him, but I knew it was him. Only he had access to it. ... And if you get a compliment from Vic Fangio, you've done something special because he does not roll them out there very much."
Ah, compliments from Fangio. He says his reluctance to give them has been "exaggerated." But the Broncos have learned -- All-Pro or not -- that the standard is the standard, and praise will be parceled out accordingly.
"With Vic, you don't know if he's happy or mad. I couldn't tell you," defensive lineman Shelby Harris said with a laugh. " … Like, all right, cool, did I do something wrong? I just got a sack, I thought. All right, it's cool."
"He gives compliments. It's not like if you do something good he's not going to just overlook it," Miller said. " ... He's been coaching for a long time. You're not a great coach if you never give compliments. You're not a good coach if you just scold guys all the time, either. He has a perfect mixture. If it's good, it's good. If it's bad, it's bad."
The Broncos closed their first offseason with Fangio this past Thursday with a "field day" for the players instead of the scheduled practice. From a home run derby to a chipping contest to Elway taking a spin in a dunk tank, the Broncos took their requisite optimism into the remainder of their football summer.
Fangio got the start he wanted. Now the games await.
"I don't say a whole lot out there [at practice] because during the game, we're on the sidelines, and you can't talk to the players other than in between series. I like to see them play without people in their ear telling them what to do," Fangio said. "When we sit in the meeting rooms, I'm very complimentary and very critical -- whatever is deserving of it."