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Elway, Broncos go with Bears’ Fangio as new head coach

The Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Forget RPOs. John Elway is going with AARP.

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, 60, has accepted Elway’s offer to become the Denver Broncos’ next head coach, a person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Broncos didn’t announce the hiring, something the team won’t do until Fangio signs his contract. He’s expected to be introduced as the club’s 17th head coach today.

Fangio replaces Vance Joseph, who was fired on New Year’s Eve after posting the franchise’s first back-to-back losing seasons since the early 1970s.

Fangio and Elway, who turns 59 this summer, will make up one of the oldest coach-GM duos in the NFL in 2019.

Although Fangio, who turns 61 in August, has no NFL head coaching experience, he has been an assistant for 32 years in the NFL and 34 seasons overall, beginning with the Philadelphia Stars of the old USFL in 1984.

Just like former Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Fangio relates to players less than half his age and commands a deep respect in the locker room.

“You’re talking about one of the best coaches in football,” Bears star edge rusher Khalil Mack said recently, dubbing Fangio “the evil genius himself.”

Elway said when he began his search for his fourth head coach in six seasons that he values experience but also recognizes the need to modernize the Broncos’ offensive and defensive schemes to keep up with the run-pass option craze that has swept through the NFL and rendered traditional systems antiquated.

Elway didn’t believe that innovation necessitated a young, up-and-coming head coach, however. So, instead of going with a fresh-faced offensive-minded novice in the mold of the Rams’ Sean McVay, he zeroed in on the grizzled gridiron lifer who’s more like his first head coaching hire, John Fox, or even the Chiefs’ Andy Reid.

Joseph was also a first-time head coach with deep defensive roots, but he lacked the lengthy resume Fangio brings. Whereas Joseph had just one year of experience as a coordinator, Fangio brings 19 years of coordinating experience for the Panthers, Colts, Texans, 49ers and Bears.

He’s built dominant defenses in different eras, successfully adapting to changes in personnel, philosophies and style.

The 2018 season was his best as Fangio guided a Bears defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowed a league-low 17.7 points per game and led the Bears into the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Also on Wednesday, persons familiar with the decisions told the AP that the Cleveland Browns are hiring Freddie Kitchens as their coach and the New York Jets have hired former Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase as head coach.

Kitchens, who had a dazzling eight-week run as the team’s interim offensive coordinator, is finalizing his contract and will be named Cleveland’s ninth coach since 1999, said the person on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting on the imminent hire.

The 44-year-old Kitchens has no previous head coaching experience, but his work with Cleveland’s offense — and quarterback Baker Mayfield — in the season’s second half vaulted him ahead of the other six candidates interviewed by the Browns.

Also, Gregg Williams, who went 5-3 as Cleveland’s interim coach and defensive coordinator this season, is no longer with the team, the person said.

Gase was 23-26 in three seasons with Miami, including a playoff game in 2016, before being fired after this season. The 40-year-old coach worked as an assistant with Detroit, San Francisco and Denver before being promoted to offensive coordinator by the Broncos in 2013 and drawing rave reviews from Peyton Manning.

Gase followed Fox to Chicago in 2015 to be the Bears’ offensive coordinator. He was hired by the Dolphins as their head coach the following season.

Gase replaces Todd Bowles, who was fired after he went 24-40 in four seasons.