Des­tined to be a coach “when he came out of the womb”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Keeler

Even be­fore this week, a lit­tle piece of Vic Fan­gio’s heart had been wedged into the Ram­part Range for decades. Tony Fan­gio, the older brother of the Bron­cos’ new coach by f ive years and the sec­ond-old­est of the four sons of Vic­tor and Al­ice Fan­gio, moved here in 1978.

“I know what it was like when John El­way re­tired,” Tony, 65, told The Post from his home in Colorado Springs. “And I know what it was like when Pey­ton Man­ning re­tired.” Groovy. But does Vic know?

A pause.

“I think he knows more about this town,” big brother replied, “than peo­ple give him credit for.”

Say what you will — and you will — about Vic Fan­gio, the man does his home­work. And the more you do the same on the cat to whom El­way just tossed the keys, the more it be­comes clear why Bron­cos fell hard for the 60year-old NFL lifer who had never been a head coach un­til last week.

“I’ve never seen a harder-work­ing man than him,” Tony said of his lit­tle brother. “Back when he was with the Saints, back in the ’80s, he brought me out to a game with my par­ents. They won the game — if I re­mem­ber right, it was a shutout.

“Af­ter the game, we went out to eat and when we got to his place, he started this chart and started sketch­ing plays and X’s and O’s (for the next op­po­nent). I said: ‘You just won the game. Don’t you take a break?’ He said, ‘That game is gone. We’ve got a new game com­ing up.’ That’s how ded­i­cated he is.”

He’s the proud son of a tai­lor, a prouder son of Dun­more, Pa., a burg of 14,000 and change tucked next to Scran­ton along the north­east cor­ner of the Rust Belt. He’s the fa­ther of two, a golf nut with a 9 hand­i­cap. He digs talk­ing about the Six­ers, the Phillies, Harold Melvin, and Earth, Wind & Fire, and hates talk­ing about him­self. So we asked a hand­ful of friends and loved ones to take a crack at the honors.


Vic­tor John Fan­gio was born in Dun­more on Aug. 22, 1958, grad­u­at­ing in 1976 from Dun­more High School, where he had played safety and wide re­ceiver for leg­endary coach Jack Hen­zes, who has the sec­ond-most wins (435) of any prep coach in Penn­syl­va­nia his­tory. Much of Vic’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily, in­clud­ing mother Al­ice, now 92, still re­side in or around Dun­more.

Al­ice Fan­gio: I think (he wanted to coach) when he came out of the womb. His fa­ther was re­ally in­ter­ested in sports, so Vic­tor fol­lowed that. And that was his whole life: Sports. Not pi­ano les­sons.

Tony Fan­gio: Two kids across the street from us were the same age. One was my age, one was his age. And we’d go over to the Dun­more Lit­tle League (field), which was right across the street, and prac­ti­cally ev­ery night we’d play foot­ball there against the two neigh­bor kids. It was Pat and Mike — they lived across the street from us. In our house, we had two ad­join­ing rooms where one room met an­other room and there was a big open­ing. I don’t know if you re­mem­ber the lit­tle pixie foot­ball, the lit­tle rub­ber foot­balls. We would play tackle foot­ball. I would throw it to him, he would run at me and I would tackle him. And he’d throw it at me and I’d run at him and he would tackle me. That was a lot of fun, too. No (fur­ni­ture da­m­age), we kind of pushed ev­ery­thing aside. A lot of rug burns, though.

Cory Fan­gio, Vic’s nephew: If we played a board game, we’d kid about Vic­tor — he’d al­ways find a way to cheat to win if he was los­ing. He hates to lose. Hates to lose. My grand­mother still kids him about this, tells the story that af­ter any Lit­tle League game or mid­get foot­ball game, she said, “If Vic­tor lost, he came home cry­ing.” She tells that story all the time. She al­ways talks about “Vic­tor, how he hates to lose. If he ever lost, he’d cry, he’d take it per­son­ally.”

Tony Fan­gio: (Vic is) prob­a­bly more like my fa­ther. If I had to pick one, I’d say my fa­ther, maybe (be­cause he’s) strong-willed.


Fan­gio never played col­lege foot­ball, fall­ing vic­tim to the coach­ing bug while at­tend­ing Di­vi­sion II East Strouds­burg Univer­sity, where he was study­ing to be a high school P.E. teacher, hop­ing to fol­low in Hen­zes’ foot­steps. As an un­der­grad, he com­muted 45 min­utes each way back to his alma mater, where he worked un­der Hen­zes as lineback­ers coach and, later, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Den­nis Douds, for­mer East Strouds­burg foot­ball coach: He never played for us. I taught Foot­ball 1, Foot­ball 2, Foot­ball 3. When he was in (col­lege), he coached at Dun­more High School and he would come in my of­fice, he would ask ques­tions. He’d be in there at 8:30 a.m. and he’d be there at 9:30 at night. Was he ded­i­cated? Yes. Did he have a pas­sion for the game? Yes, at that age, to be able to say that’s what he wanted to do, that’s my walk in life.

Hen­zes: He was our free safety for three years. He was a coach on the field. I knew that he had the mak­ings to be a good foot­ball coach. I told him three things: No. 1, be a good lis­tener. No. 2, be the last guy leav­ing the of­fice. No. 3, don’t talk about the guy next to you, be­cause you never know when he could be­come a head coach. Douds had an­other Dun­more na­tive pok­ing around his of­fice at that time, a wun­derkind named Joe Mar­ciano, a pal of Vic’s who would even­tu­ally join the staffs at Vil­lanova (1980), Penn State (1981) and Tem­ple (1982). Mar­ciano nailed a low-level gig break­ing down film for the nascent Philadel­phia Stars of the USFL in 1983. When the Stars’ special-teams coach left the next year, Mar­ciano pitched coach Jim Mora on a pro­mo­tion, set­ting the wheels in mo­tion for an old friend to join the party.

Douds: To make a long story short, Jim Mora talked to Joe and said, “Do you know any­body who can take your job?” And he said, “There’s a guy back in East Strouds­burg named Vic Fan­gio.” And Mora called and got a hold of Vic, and Vic was on his way to break down film and sleep in the cafe­te­ria. So don’t tell me there’s a sil­ver spoon around here.

Cory Fan­gio: (Vis­it­ing Vic), we would watch the Phillies games from be­hind home plate (at Veter­ans Sta­dium), like in the groundskeep­ing area, me and my grand­fa­ther. To be able to watch the games, stuff like that, as a kid, was just un­be­liev­able. So we could go down for the week­end, we’d catch a Phillies game and then the Stars game. It was like, “I got to do this be­cause of Un­cle Vic.”


The rest is NFL de­fen­sive his­tory: Mora took Fan­gio and Mar­ciano with him to New Or­leans, where the pair coached the Saints’ lineback­ers and special teams, re­spec­tively, from 1986-94. The Big Easy re­vival hit its apex in 1992, when Fan­gio’s four start­ing lineback­ers — Sam Mills and Vaughan John­son on the inside, Pat Swill­ing and Rickey Jack­son on the out­side — were all se­lected on the first ballot to the Pro Bowl, be­com­ing the first unit of four lineback­ers from one squad to do so.

Swill­ing: About my third year or fourth year, we had a blowup on the side­lines. I was go­ing off on him, and he was go­ing off on me and I jumped up in his face and he jumped up in my face. But the point is, when it was over, it was back to just Vic and Pat, just coach and player. He may get in your face. He may get on your (ex­ple­tive). At the end of the day, it goes back to just coach and player. He never was vin­dic­tive. He never held any of that against me.

Jack­son: He taught me to make sure that I fol­lowed the ball. What I was do­ing was, I was beat­ing up on guys and they didn’t have the ball. You see what (Bears line­backer) Khalil Mack was do­ing, get­ting at that foot­ball and mak­ing plays. He was more about get­ting the turnover and mak­ing plays. He taught me to get the ball; get the ball back to the of­fense and you’ll win more games. He was one of those coaches where he would have a look at film and he would have you see a play com­ing be­fore it comes.

Swill­ing: I opened up a busi­ness down in New Or­leans. I had some peo­ple who opened up a night­club and they used my name. I asked him to come. He would come a cou­ple of times and show sup­port. No ques­tion, (Vic) cared more about me off the field than he did on the field. I’ve been in the real es­tate busi­ness for 30 years. I build build­ings for my­self and build con­dos and things. It’s kind of funny, a cou­ple years ago, I saw Vic at a game and he said, “I’m in real es­tate, too.” I asked him, “When do you have time for real es­tate?” And he kind of laughed. Vic is one of those guys off the field that the guys will be able to re­late to. He’s not just a foot­ball coach; he’s a smart guy. Mora and Fan­gio re­united with In­di­anapo­lis in 1999, with the for­mer fa­mously los­ing his job be­cause he re­fused to fire the lat­ter at the re­quest of then-colts GM Bill Po­lian. Fan­gio be­came the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the Tex­ans in 2002, then joined the Ravens as a special as­sis­tant to coach Brian Bil­lick in 2006.

Bil­lick: He was great. And I was call­ing plays at the time in Bal­ti­more and he was that ex­tra set of eyes to chal­lenge me. And he says, “Here’s what I think the de­fense is go­ing to do to you,” and when you’re a play-caller and a head coach, you need some­one to keep you on track in terms of that head coach­ing side. Of course, as a head coach, you’re on the phone with ev­ery­body (dur­ing a game). The (staff) would joke about it, that when Vic is on the phone, ev­ery­body shuts up. In clear and no un­cer­tain terms, that he was the guy I wanted to hear from in those cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, just be­cause of the con­fi­dence that you know he had.

Swill­ing: Those (Bron­cos) guys, if you’re not pas­sion­ate about play­ing, you’re go­ing to have a hard time with Vic. He’s a dis­ci­plined coach. He’ll let you have fun. He’ll let you be your­self. You’re go­ing to be in the meet­ing rooms on time. You’re not go­ing to be late for prac­tice. All those things. I’ve heard that (the Bron­cos are young) … He knows how to deal with mil­len­ni­als. He knows how to deal with older guys. Vic can find what but­tons to push.


Co­or­di­nat­ing a top-10 scor­ing de­fense (17.4 points al­lowed per game) for Jim Har­baugh at Stan­ford in 2010 be­gat four sea­sons of top-10 scor­ing de­fenses with Har­baugh in San Fran­cisco (2011-14), where the Nin­ers reached a Super Bowl and two NFC title games. Or­ches­trat­ing two more top-10 scor­ing de­fenses Chicago (2017 and 2018) helped open the door to the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time.

Cory Fan­gio: He loves coach­ing. That’s who he is, what makes him tick. My son was able to fin­ish his (prep) ca­reer un­der Coach Hen­zes, and Vic would al­ways text my son af­ter ev­ery game and they’d talk back and forth. He still al­ways checks up on his home­town and still texts me ev­ery Fri­day: “Did the Bucks win?” Ev­ery foot­ball Fri­day I get a text from him: “What was the score?” He still cares about what’s go­ing on.

Jack­son: I sent him two text mes­sages telling him how happy I was. It al­most made me cry. That’s some­thing I’ve never done be­fore. I’ll tell you what: I was so ex­cited for him, it al­most brought tears in my eyes.

Cory Fan­gio: (On Thurs­day), one of the things when I was watch­ing that news con­fer­ence, I thought, “My grand­fa­ther is look­ing down and just beam­ing that his son is a head coach of an NFL team.”

Tony Fan­gio: I told him I waited 25 years for this, and it fi­nally hap­pened. I have to wrap my head around it: He’s not get­ting on a plane and leav­ing. He’s stay­ing here.

Al­ice Fan­gio: He was very short (Wed­nes­day). He said, “I got the job in Colorado, and I’ll be go­ing out there to talk to them.” And then he said, “I’ve got to go now.” He’s a man of few words. Ex­cept when you get him mad.

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos coach Vic Fan­gio “may get on your (ex­ple­tive). At the end of the day, it goes back to just coach and player,” says Pat Swill­ing, a line­backer who played for Fan­gio on the New Or­leans Saints.

Jeff Chiu, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Vic Fan­gio di­rects his play­ers six sea­sons ago when he was the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the San Fran­cisco 49ers. Fan­gio has been an as­sis­tant for six other NFL teams, in­clud­ing most re­cently the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the Chicago Bears.

Cour­tesy of Scran­ton Times-tri­bune

Vic Fan­gio, first player on the left in the sec­ond row, was a “coach on the field” while play­ing safety for the Dun­more (Pa.) High School team in the mid-1970s.

Nam Y. Huh, As­so­ci­ated Press file

Al­ice Fan­gio notes that her son Vic “is a man of few words. Ex­cept when you get him mad.”

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