Sometimes when making choices in life, we get caught up with the sexy, flashy option, rather than the most practical one. It’s natural for anyone to be tempted to take the extravagant route, especially if you’re concerned with what people will think.
It will be interesting to see which path San Francisco 49ers’ CEO Jed York chooses in his efforts to hire a new head coach, as he’s undoubtedly feeling some pressure in light of the public thrashing he’s received after parting ways with the ultra-successful Jim Harbaugh.
It’s almost as if York and his general manager, Trent Baalke, where blindsided by the negative reaction the media and the fan base had to Harbaugh’s departure. In turn, they’ve bumbled their way through press conferences and interviews trying to explain the decision, all the while attempting to re-iterate qualities they would want in the next coach.
Because of the way the situation has unfolded, it wouldn’t be a surprise if York decided to go with the “wow” factor and hire a coach with a track record like Mike Shanahan. (I say York, because even though they’ve said Baalke’s in charge of hiring the coach, obviously York has the final say).
While Shanahan would be a fine hire in theory, it could bring about major changes in the way the team is run, as he would have his own system, coaches, style, etc., and that would have a ripple effect throughout the entire roster.
Actually, you could say the same about any outside candidate, whether their names are Adam Gase, Josh McDaniels, or Rex Ryan.
A complete upheaval would make sense if the 49ers were a floundering team with a poor roster, but they are far from that. Actually, the new coach would be stepping into a team that’s still on a winning path, and gone 44-19-1 the past four seasons.
Is that a path that York wants to stray from?
Considering what San Francisco has been building since 2011 has been so successful, it might make the most sense to just stay the course, and elevate defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to head coach.
A promotion for Fangio would mean that most of the coaching staff and structure of a team that went to the NFC Championship game every year from 2011-2013 (as well as a Super Bowl appearance) would stay in place. That would allow the 49ers to continue to build on their current foundation, rather than break it down.
That’s not so say there wouldn’t be changes. There’s zero chance that offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be back, but the offense wasn’t exactly the 49ers’ strong point.
Since Harbaugh and Roman took over in 2011, the 49ers have ranked higher than 20th in total offense just once (2012), despite having a top-eight rushing attack each season. They’ve failed to develop any kind of a consistent passing game, and have seen their franchise quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, regress to the point where he hurt the team in 2014.
In fact, since 2011 San Francisco has never finished higher than 23rd in total passing yards, and ranked in the bottom three in the league in three of the four seasons. A large reason for that is because 49er quarterbacks have been sacked on a whopping 8.9 percent of their drops backs since ’11.
So how were the Niners so successful with a pedestrian offense?
Look no further than Fangio, who’s defense has been a consistent force in the league since he took the helm.
Fangio’s unit has never ranked lower than fifth in total defense, and didn’t finish below third in points allowed until the injury riddled 2014 campaign. Even then, they were still in the top 10. When relatively healthy from 2011-2013, the defense gave up an average of 16.1 points per game, which was the best in the NFL over that time frame.
But what may have been most impressive, is what Fangio was able to do despite losing many of his key pieces in 2014.
Consider that their two All-Pro inside linebackers (Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman), best pass rusher (Aldon Smith), best cornerback (Tramaine Brock), and starting nose tackle (Glenn Dorsey), played 16 games COMBINED all season. Consider, on top of that, they were without Chris Culliver, Chris Cook, Ray McDonald, Chris Borland, Jimmie Ward, Eric Reid, Ian Williams and Ahmad Brooks for parts of the year.
Despite the setbacks, the beleaguered unit still finished fifth in total defense, 10th in points allowed, and led the league in interceptions. Since the 49ers’ offense struggled to score and only topped 20 points six times all season, can you imagine what their record may have been without a dominant effort on the other side of the ball?
Given the role he’s played in all of the recent success, it should be obvious to come to the conclusion that Fangio deserves a shot to see if he can help it continue. While it’s still up in air what the final decision will be, York and Baalke would be wise to give Fangio the nod as the next head coach of the 49ers.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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