Denver Broncos: Jim Leavitt describes coaching experience with Vic Fangio

Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio is entering his second season as the team’s Head Coach. One of his former coaches reflected on coaching with him.

In a time where the world is experiencing a variety of change and uncertainty, one thing remained the same. The sound of a Pepsi can opening could be heard over the phone before discussing the Denver Broncos and Head Coach Vic Fangio.

Coach Jim Leavitt, defensive coordinator for Florida Atlantic University, took some time to conduct a phone interview on an 85-degree day in Boca Raton, Florida. This particular time served as the perfect time to open a cold refreshing Pepsi and revisit history.

“A number from Coos Bay, wow.” a voice echoed on the phone as I introduced myself to Coach Leavitt, who was recently a defensive coordinatorwith the Oregon Ducks. We spent several minutes talking about the beautiful state of Oregon and his coaching ties within the state, the various trips up and down the coastline, and his love for Pepsi.

We transitioned into a discussion on a current member of the Denver Broncos roster in OLB Justin Hollins, who the team drafted in the 5th round of 2019 NFL Draft. I asked Coach Leavitt about his experience as the defensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks when Hollins was playing there.

“He’s very very smart, a very heady ballplayer who could anticipate, he knew all the calls and knew what everybody was doing on the defense.”

Jim Leavitt (quotes obtained firsthand)

Coach Leavitt mentioned that Hollins’ length and ability to run combined with his football IQ make him a very good football player. The Ducks under Leavitt ran a similar style of defense that Vic Fangio runs.

When the Broncos selected him with the 18th pick in the 5th round, the selection had Vic Fangio’s fingerprints all over it.

Shortly after Hollins was drafted, he quickly began to impress the coaches. Coach Fangio had Hollins learn the nuances of his defense at inside linebacker primarily before teaching him the edge portion to his defense, a move that will pay off for Hollins in 2020.

With NFL rosters being limited to 46 on game-day, Leavitt discussed the thought process behind how Fangio will utilize a player like Hollins.

“Justin can run, he’s got length, and you know he can help you on Special Teams, if he can be one of those extra guys because he is very smart, that can learn inside and outside, well there’s your value.”

In 2020, the Denver Broncos defense may see more of Justin Hollins on the field in critical moments.

With the 2020 NFL Draft approaching in just a couple of weeks, the Denver Broncos are one of the teams who have their eyes on Ducks inside linebacker Troy Dye. Coach Leavitt talked about how Dye can be impactful in the NFL with any defensive coordinator.

“He’s very smart. He’ll know the whole defense, he’ll know all the calls. The defense that I ran there (Oregon) was very similar to what they do at Denver.”

Between Troy Dye and Justin Hollins, both having a smart football IQ plus the talent on the football field will help them succeed in the league.

He’s got an NFL mindset. He won’t come in being intimidated in any way. He’ll be good in the room. He’s a very good leader. I think Troy’s going to end up playing a lot of years in the NFL, I really do.

If the Broncos were able to find themselves in a position to draft Dye, I think Vic Fangio would press the button in a heart-beat with some of the feedback I imagine Coach Leavitt has provided him.

Coach Leavitt would then transition our conversation into his relationship and friendship with Fangio whom he coached with and learned from in San Francisco from 2011-2014.

“I have so much respect for Vic. He was one of the top, if not the best defensive coordinators in the NFL when I got with him.”

Leavitt who had experience with running the 4-3 defense said that Fangio taught him everything he knows about the 3-4 scheme, which he would implement at Colorado, Oregon, and currently runs at Florida Atlantic.

“I was not well versed with the 3-4, so I was like a little kid that was a sponge for knowledge. Everything that Vic taught I thought he taught it extremely well, I just soaked it in.”

What goes into the defense that Fangio and Leavitt run is being able to relate your scheme to the players that you have on the field. Leavitt described how impressed he was with how Vic Fangio’s teaching style, how he handled players, and how he related the scheme to the NFL game.

The moment that Vic Fangio walked into the doors at Dove Valley, he described that he wants his coaches to be great teachers. Certainly, with the experienced staff that the team currently has, including the addition this off-season of OLB Coach John Pagano, who replaced Brandon Staley who took the defensive coordinator job with the Los Angeles Rams, the team has embraced  Fangio’s vision regarding teaching.

Next: Grading every 2020 offseason move for the Broncos

With reflection over his 42 years of coaching and the relationships he’s developed along the way, Coach Leavitt was a fountain of information for Broncos fans who want to get to know Coach Fangio even more.