Vic Fangio taught Leonard Floyd two things in particular that resonated with the Bears outside linebacker: Win the first two seconds of every down, and save your money.
That pretty much illustrates Fangio’s common-sense approach, which endeared him to players young and old as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.
Fangio was a soft-spoken leader, a -meticulous teacher and a father-like mentor. It’s a big reason why so many are looking forward to facing Fangio and his Broncos on Sunday at Mile High Stadium. They want to see him, hug him, beat him and, in Floyd’s case, impress him.
“I’m super-excited going against coach Vic,” said Floyd, who grew up in Fangio’s defense in his first four seasons in the NFL with the Bears. “I’m looking forward to playing at a high level so he can notice me.”
Fangio’s influence on the Bears’ rebuild seems bigger than ever after the defense stood out in the 10-3 loss to the Packers. It’s now Chuck Pagano’s defense, but there’s no doubt it was built by Fangio.
When Fangio arrived in 2015, the Bears were 30th in the NFL in total defense and 31st in scoring defense, with no Pro Bowl players. Four years later, they were third in total defense and first in scoring defense, with four Pro Bowl players, including three All-Pros — linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller.
“He’s a guru,” Jackson said. “Coach Vic didn’t really speak too much. He was one of those quiet guys — always like the mob type. Always just chill. And when he did talk, the room listened.”
Fangio facing a team he knows so well on both sides of the line of scrimmage will be an intriguing storyline heading into a huge game for the Bears.
Coach Matt Nagy knows this will be as big of a game for Fangio as it is for the Bears. Nagy had particular fun in re-living Fangio’s spirited approach to Bears practices.
“He might not act like it, but he’s a competitive guy,” Nagy said. “It we threw an interception or if there was a fumble in practice, he’d run down there and jump up in the air and land awkwardly and think he looked cool, but he really didn’t. And then we’d get it on video.
“There was one time where . . . they had a pick-six and he grabbed the ball and he did a ‘ba-boom’ and spiked the ball on us. It was on video. The first thing he did was run into the video department and told them to delete that. But he forgot that I’ve got 51 percent [authority], and I made ’em put it back in. So we got it on video and played it later in the year.”
After all of those practice-field battles, the Bears know Fangio will enjoy the heck out of beating the Bears. So beneath the utmost respect on the outside is a bit of a grudge match.
“Before the game and after the game, we’ll be cool,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “But in the game, we’re trying to give him his first or second loss.”
But win or lose Sunday, players will never forget the impact Fangio had on their career, especially Floyd.
“He had a lot [of impact],” Floyd said. “He was the coordinator here when they drafted me. He brought me in and taught me a whole lot about the game of football and a whole lot about life. He will forever be one of my closest friends and one of my favorite coaches.”