Broncos coach Vic Fangio has been having a difficult time connecting with players and coaches in his first season in Denver, with his often gruff demeanor rubbing many the wrong way and creating internal tension within the team, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
Fangio, long considered one of the elite defensive minds in football and a highly-successful coordinator, is a head coach for the first time at age 61, and that transition has been rough, the sources said. His defense has been strong, but the team sits at 3-6, and there has been plenty of internal strife.
Fangio has had issues with offensive assistants, the sources said, and at one point top receiver Emmanuel Sanders in essence walked out on the team, leading to his eventual trade. Lines of communication have been strained, and Fangio has been quick to dispute play calls and come across as overbearing on the headsets, sources said, which has created issues in-game and otherwise.
"There is a negative reaction to almost every offensive play call," said one source with knowledge of the situation.
Other sources noted a disconnect between the offense and defense as well, with Fangio's "people skills," in their minds, lacking. There is almost no discussion beyond football, sources said, and that, coupled with some staff and personnel issues as well as lingering angst over an eventual sale of this franchise, has created a difficult climate around the team.
"Pretty much everyone gets treated like (crap)," said one source with knowledge of the situation, "but if anything I think it's brought the (coaches) on offense closer together."
There were questions as to how well veteran quarterback Joe Flacco fit the offense at this stage of his career, as he lacks mobility, was stuck behind a poor pass-protecting line and unable to operate with a moving pocket and the boots and waggles emphasized in the offense. First-time starter Brandon Allen executed more of those staples last week with Flacco out for the season.
General manager John Elway, who has churned through coaches since taking over, is under increasing pressure in recent years with drafts, trades and free-agent signings often not panning out. Denver could be headed to its third straight losing season, something that has happened only once since the move from the AFL to the NFL in 1970 (1970-73).
The Flacco trade was a bust, recent first-round pick Garret Bolles has been woeful at tackle and the free-agent signing of Ja'Wuan James at the other tackle spot has been roundly panned this season as well. Elway's difficultly identifying quarterbacks and offensive linemen in particular has set the franchise back. Elway and team president Joe Ellis essentially have autonomy to run the club as it operates within the trust set up by late owner Pat Bowlen, though by 2021 some league and ownership sources believe this team could be positioned for sale pending the various lawsuits it is facing from Bowlen's heirs.