It’s Time to Tell the Truth: Vic Fangio is Overrated

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 30: Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during pre-game warm ups before their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 30, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 30: Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during pre-game warm ups before their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 30, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

After two years and five games, it’s becoming clear that Vic Fangio may not be the gem everyone assumes he is.

If you speak with most Chicago Bears fans, you will hear a common theme. John Fox is terrible. Dowell Loggains is terrible. But when it comes to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the tune changes. “Thank God for Vic Fangio!” “Where would the Bears be without Vic Fangio?” Every Bears fan seems to think that Vic Fangio is a defensive guru who has worked wonders with the Chicago Bears defense. Here’s the cold truth: Vic Fangio is good, but he is far from great.

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Assuming this season continues down the path into does, Fox will be fired at the end of the year. Ryan Pace will be able to bring in his own hand-selected coach and it will almost certainly be an offensive-minded coach. That means, in theory, Fangio could be a holdover if the new coach is willing to work under those parameters, but the Bears will probably be in better shape if they let Fangio walk with the rest of the coaching staff.

Blasphemy! How could I say such a thing? Simple. Fangio’s defensive strategy isn’t cutting it for Chicago. It’s not to say he’s a bad defensive coordinator, it’s just to say he’s far from great. Fangio’s defense is designed to be a bend don’t break defense. Meaning, a few first downs don’t hurt, as long as the opponent eventually punts. If the team does work its way into Chicago territory, it’s focus is to hold the opponent to three points.

While the theory behind this defense is sound, the problem is it doesn’t create a winning formula, especially on this team. The two biggest problems with Fangio’s defense is that a, it causes no turnovers, and b, it bends. What does this mean?

First, the defense never causes a turnover and gives the Bears’ offense a short field. When you have an offense with deficiencies, you need to put them in a position to succeed. That’s why Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme worked well in Chicago. He wanted to create turnovers and give his mediocre offense a short field and help them get points. Fangio doesn’t play the ball, he plays the playbook, which means reacting and not being in a position to make plays on the football.

Yes, it gets punts, but usually after a first down or two. If a defense is complacent to bend and not play the ball, sure, they won’t allow a ton of points, but they’ll leave the offense consistently with 70, 80, or even 90 yards away from the end zone. No offense can consistently put up points like that, especially the one currently in Chicago.

Fangio defenders will say I’m blaming the defense for the offense’s woes, but that is not what I’m doing, I’m saying that Fangio’s defense is designed to look better statistically then it is in practice. Let’s take a deeper dive into Vic Fangio defensive coordinator.

Fangio’s first gig as a defensive coordinator was under Dom Capers for four seasons for the expansion Carolina Panthers. Under Fangio, the defense’s yards per game was ranked 7th in year one, followed by 10th, 15th and then 30th. In 1995, there were 30 teams, not 32, so that 30th ranking was dead last. As for points per game, Fangio’s defense was good early, but by year four, the team was 27th in the league. Needless to say, Fangio and Capers were fired after 1998 after the defense declined every year Fangio was there.

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Chicago Bears

Fangio’s next stop was with the Indianapolis Colts from 1999 to 2001. What was the result? Year one, the defense’s points and yards ranked 17 and 15, year two, 15 and 21, year three, 29 and 28. Same results- a solid start, and a defense that steadily worsened during his tenure.

Our next stop on the Fangio World Tour is the Houston Texans. Fangio had the defensive coordinator spot there from 2002-2005. Fangio was brought back by his old pal Dom Capers. He spent four years with the expansion Texans and never improved the defense, in fact, you guessed it, they steadily got worse. Those four-year rankings were 20/16, 27/31, 15/23, and 32/31. No surprise, after coaching the worst defense in the NFL, Fangio was fired.

Fangio wasn’t an NFL defensive coordinator again until 2011 where he had the position under Jim Harbaugh and held it for four years. Here is where he gained notoriety and had the most success of his career. Fangio’s defense was a top 5 unit the first three years he was there and the unit was still a top ten unit in his final year when he left the team to join the Bears.

In Chicago, Fangio took over a dreadful unit but has failed to finish in the top 20 in any season in points allowed and this year, the team is currently 25th. Statistically speaking, other than three dominant years in San Francisco, the resume doesn’t read like one of a defensive guru.

Besides the consistently underperforming defenses, there’s the question about turnovers. Here’s a look at Fangio’s defenses in the takeaway department and where that ranks.

2017 (thru 5 games)- 3, 29th
2016- 11, 32nd
2015- 17, 28th
2014 (SF)- 29, 4th
2013-30, 6th
2012- 25, 14th
2011- 38, 1st
2005 (Hou)- 16, 32nd
2004- 30, 14th
2003- 22, 26th
2002- 21, 30th
2001 (Ind)- 25, 24th
2000- 22, 25th
1999- 23, 27th
1998 (Car)- 33, 9th
1997- 22, 26th
1996- 38, 5th
1995- 37, 5th

Fangio has been a defensive coordinator at the NFL level now for 18 years. Ten times, the team finished 24th or lower in turnovers forced. His teams only finished in the top ten six times and finished in the top five only four. In 18 years as a defensive “guru,” his defense led the league in turnovers forced once.

The numbers don’t lie. You can defend Fangio all you want and you can give him all the excuses you want, but season after season, his defenses are largely mediocre. He had great seasons under Jim Harbaugh with a defensive unit loaded with talent, but other than that, he’s never been able to elevate his defenses to top-tier units.

The numbers certainly don’t support Fangio as a defensive guru. The numbers show Fangio did a tremendous job (working under a fantastic coach in Harbaugh) when he had a loaded roster. When his rosters aren’t historically great, his defenses are pedestrian.

The Bears need to make a coaching change at year’s end, and Fangio needs to go with Fox. It’s time for some fresh ideas on the defense. Fangio’s current scheme isn’t cutting the mustard.