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Vic Fangio is a ‘60s TV detective who only moonlights as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Short on words, long on meaning. He answers what is asked tightly, concisely, and then he moves on.
Hey, there’s a new murder to solve.
He has fashioned one of NFL’s finest defenses, one with remarkably few weaknesses at a time of high-octane offenses and the vagaries of free agency. It is so compact that it requires almost no situational substitution – it is in its way the defensive football of 30 years ago, only as modern as the next big thing.
And yet, during the league’s Happy Coaches On The Move season, his name barely reached low-level-whisper stage. This is of course a highly unscientific scale, as the qualifications for running a rumor mill are fairly low, but the 49er assistant who was considered most likely to benefit from job turmoil was offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
This reveals a fascinating truth about coaching vacancies – more and more of them are actually filled not by general managers, but by owners keen to have the newest toy in the store, which in this case is the read-option. They also err on the side of offensive coaches, as seven of the eight men hired for 2013 are offensive specialists, in a league where scoring has never been higher.
“I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Fangio said when asked if the head coaching world is trending away from his specialty. “Yes, seven offensive guys were hired, but if you look, eight of the 12 playoff teams have head coaches who are defensive coaches by background.”
And Fangio said it with some verve, as if to say, “You have your trends, and I have my playoff teams.”
By the way, Fangio’s Eight are Mike Smith (Atlanta), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), John Fox (Denver), Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis, although because of Pagano’s leukemia, Bruce Arians, an offensive specialist, coached much of the year), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Bill Belichick (New England), Pete Carroll (Seattle) and of course, John Harbaugh.
The interesting part, though, is that Fangio is counting such things, because like most coaches who have excelled in the NFL for awhile, he must surely itch for the opportunity to run his own shop. He is careful not to say so, as the job before him is to assemble a Super Bowl-winning defensive performance, but he is 54, in his prime as a headset.
Or maybe past it; only Fox (55), Romeo Crennel (64), Bruce Arians (60), Mark Trestman (57) and Andy Reid (54) of the men hired in the last three years are Fangio’s age or older. The profession’s highest positions are skewing younger and younger, and first-time coaches begin almost entirely in their 40s.
Fangio, though, has paid his dues and then some. The 49ers are his fifth stop as a defensive coordinator, after Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston and Stanford. Carolina and Houston were expansion teams when he was hired by Dom Capers to run his defenses, Indianapolis and Stanford may as well have been given their run of form before he got there under Jim Mora, and the 49ers, you know about already.
The point here is that Fangio has been marked by successful defensive coaches to run their defenses, and in his last two hires, Jim Harbaugh has left him to be an almost de facto head coach of the defense. Ready, in short, is ready, and Fangio is going to have to be ready awhile longer. The hiring season is over, and he is where he’s been.
Sunday, though, will help him (forgive the hideous phrase) expand the brand. If the 49er defense corrals Baltimore as it has most other teams the past two seasons, he can become “the next hot coaching name,” which is in truth just another name for purgatory.
But it beats being the guy who never got called at all.