ENGLEWOOD • Just as Vic Fangio opened the door at Broncos HQ to 130 high school coaches from all over Colorado, a man on the other side of the country was thinking about him.
His own high school coach.
Jack Henzes is 83. Coach Henzes won an extraordinary 444 games at Dunmore High, and only one Pennsylvania coach, the late George Curry, won more. In the days before and after he begrudgingly retired from coaching due to health issues in April, Henzes has received a phone call from Fangio every two weeks.
“I love him like my own son,” Henzes said Monday from his home in northeastern Pennsylvania.
With May snow falling on the Broncos practice fields, the team moved inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse to start the second week of organized team activities. Along the north wall of the practice facility, high school coaches from Class 5A Fountain-Fort Carson to Haxtun High, an 8-man program, stood and scribbled notes.
The event felt like a tribute to Coach Henzes.
Fangio’s career began in the 1970s with Coach Henzes — first as a player, later as a coach. It continues now as a first-time NFL head coach.
The getting-to-know-you phase of the Fangio era must begin with those who know him best.
“Victor was a great player for us back in the ‘70s. He played with a freshmen group of players I wanted to bring up to the varsity. They decided they’d rather play freshmen ball and win every game by 25 or 30 points,” Henzes said. “Victor was a free safety and a wideout. He was a very intelligent player. Later on, he used to call our defenses for us. He’s a very bright young man.”
Fangio is 60. Coach Henzes is here to make us all feel better.
“I’m so happy for him,” Henzes said.
One of the bright moves Fangio has made since Joe Ellis and John Elway hired him went down on Monday. It was Fangio’s idea to open the Broncos’ practice to coaches from around the state, a few of whom drove 4 hours to observe a 2-hour workout and hear from Fangio himself. His message, one coach said: “He wanted to emphasize what a big fan he is of high school football coaches. He’s got a soft spot in his heart for us, since that’s what he was.”
Later, Fangio followed with this telling nugget, according to another little birdie in the Broncos team room: “If I had nine lives like a cat, one of them would be a high school football coach.”
The latter is a statement that’s half in jest, half truth. The money’s sweet. But while a hefty chunk of an NFL coach’s duty is off the field, Fangio is at home teaching a proper tackle or disguising a defense. He’s more Haxtun than Hollywood. Who wants to deal with salary cap minutiae and silly media when there’s ‘ball to be coached, anyway?
“I think coaching high school football gives you a good foundation just because you’re teaching fundamentals at a low level. And you’re usually having to coach both sides of the ball, not just offense or defense,” Fangio said. “It’s a great coaching opportunity to get your feet wet and establish some confidence in assigning players, coaches and techniques. I think it’s a good place to start.”
It’s 2.5 hours from Haxtun, in the northeast corner of our state, to UCHealth Training Center, in the southeast ‘burbs of the Denver metro. For a couple 8-man coaches in the Plains League, the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse might as well be a fourth dimension.
“The first thing you notice is they have all the pads laid out for the (players),” Haxtun head coach JD Stone said after the workout.
“We’re lucky if the managers remember to fill the water bottles,” Haxtun assistant and Colorado State Patrol officer Marc Bornhoft said with a laugh.
“When they brought the trash cans out (to use in drills), it was kind of funny. We use trash cans to mimic a defense when we don’t have enough guys,” Stone added.
“Yeah, it’s like, ‘Here’s the opposing team’s guard. He’s not very fast!’” Bornhoft said.
And their first impression of the Broncos’ new coach jibes with Fangio’s football roots.
“He’s kind of like what I expected. He’s an old-school, straightforward, what you see is what you get,” Bornhoft said. “He’s a football guy, just what you’d expect.”
Coach Henzes is a football guy, just what you’d expect.
His first job, in Bethesda, Md., was teaching and coaching eighth-grade girls basketball. Henzes said he made $3,800 in his first year. “Worked myself up” to an assistant coaching job with his dad, he said, before leaving to teach science at a new school. He began at Dunmore in 1970.
“Been here ever since,” Henzes said.
Fangio’s mom has been known to bring fresh zucchinis to the Henzes home. His father often worked as a Little League umpire.
“Victor, he never forgot where he came from,” Henzes said.
“He’s a very quiet young man. I asked him a while back what’s the difference between your level and our level. He says, ‘Coach it’s the speed. But the same drills you do with your people, we do with our people. It’s the same coaching. They all want to know the same things.’
“God bless him. He’ll always call me and make a point to see me. I’m so happy for him. You think there’s only 32 coaches in the National Football League and he’s one of them. Victor paid his dues. He’ll do a great job for you there in Denver. I have no doubt about that.”
There’s no doubt where Victor Fangio got it from.
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