Is Vic Fangio the next George Seifert?
If things in Ninersville keep going down the muddy road they're traveling, we might just find out.
Rare, if not nonexistent, is the man who enters the NFL coaching ranks with the ultimate goal of being a defensive coordinator's defensive coordinator, and for all his brilliance, that's what Fangio is at this point. That the 49ers' season hasn't yet gone up in smoke despite being without Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and, most recently and henceforth, Patrick Willis, is a surprising development for which credit should go mostly to two men, and neither is named Jim Harbaugh.
One, of course, is general manager Trent Baalke, whose amazing track record in regards to finding hidden gems in the NFL Draft is sadly obscured by the strange fan and media obsession over the first-round misfire that was A.J. Jenkins.
(You can probably thank Harbaugh's comically defiant insistence that Jenkins was destined for greatness for said obsession, by the way. Nobody does comic defiance quite like King Khaki, and its impressions are indelible.)
In beautiful harmony with Baalke is the other man chiefly responsible for the season still being alive. Fangio coaches up his defensive unit the way most of us only dream of cooking, rummaging through the cupboards and refrigerator for whatever's handy and still within the use-by window, then somehow creatively coming up with world-class cuisine.
As poor and spastic as has been the Niners' offense thus far, vacillating between identities like a loaded executive wobbling his way toward a decision while standing in front of the motorized tie rack in his mahogany walk-in closet, it's something of a football miracle that the team isn't long dead by now, much less over .500 with a realistic shot at making the playoffs in a loaded NFC.
Gush all you want over Colin Kaepernick's 50-plus-yard prayer in New Orleans last week, but that game was won by Fangio, who throughout his time with the Niners has displayed a remarkable knack for putting the right people in the right places at the right time.
All of which should mean that Fangio's time — his time to take that last glorious step to the top rung of the NFL coaching ladder — should be coming sooner rather than later. That it hasn't already, given his history, is a little bit baffling as it is.
Well, if things keep going the way they are, with the offense sputtering, Harbaugh muttering and that long-discussed contract extension for the head coach unlikely to materialize, shouldn't Fangio's time come here?
Consider: He has an excellent rapport with not just his defensive charges, but all of the players. The Niners have said they won't place a premium on marquee-name value if and when they have to replace Harbaugh — they rarely do, the lone exception being with Harbaugh himself, and that was necessitated by the slog of slugs that came before him. And finally, as with anything in life in sports, continuity brings comfort — and usually success.
In Fangio's case, it would mean continued success, much the way the hiring of Seifert meant continued success in the wake of living legend Bill Walsh's abrupt departure.
Granted, Seifert inherited a roster loaded with studs, and the landscape of the NFL at the time allowed for deep-pocketed owners like the revered Eddie D to stockpile talent like greedy Monopoly players stockpile property. But it's not like the cupboard will be bare should King Khaki take his leave. In fact, you could make the case that there will be more talent on the 2015 roster then there is in 2014. At the very least, the talent will presumably be healthier and more experienced.
Maybe even a little pissed off, and that's never a bad thing in football.
Perhaps we're jumping the gun here. Maybe the Niners surprise the skeptics and figure out a way to keep Harbaugh in the fold. It would be foolhardy, not to mention out of character for the rational and levelheaded Baalke, to dismiss such a successful head coach simply because he's not the nicest kid in the sandbox. Winning trumps all in big-time sports.
But it has to be comforting to the franchise and its fans to know that should things come to that, there's a pretty nice kid over in another corner of the same sandbox making a pretty sweet castle of his own.