Fangio returns to his NFL roots

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh brought a number of his Stanford assistants with him to Santa Clara. One of them is Vic Fangio, a veteran of the NFL who has been defensive coordinator with three other teams.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Vic Fangio may have spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Stanford University, but he is most assuredly not a college coach.

Fangio's roots are in the NFL. His new job as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator marks his 25th year as a coach in the league, and the Niners represent the fourth team he's served as a defensive coordinator.

"I enjoyed my year at Stanford. I really did," Fangio said last week. "Obviously, this is what I've done forever it seems. It's good to be back.

"When I say that, I don't mean that I wasn't happy at Stanford because I really had fun there. I'm glad I did it."

Fangio had a successful season coaching the Cardinal, but there are clear differences between the college and pro games, he said. Players are bigger, faster and meaner; playbooks are more complicated.

"I don't know that there's much to bring to the NFL from college just because of the differences," he said. "It's more so the stuff we brought from the NFL to college, we'll bring back the NFL. It's a different game. The NFL game is a much more physical game than college football. College football is spread out, the option, the bubble game, the different rules. In the NFL, it's a man's game. It's physical, so that's a big difference."

Fangio has 11 seasons worth of experience as a defensive coordinator, having held the post with the Carolina Panthers (1995-98), Indianapolis Colts (1999-2001) and Houston Texans (2002-05). He worked with Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers for 16 seasons and said he favors the type of aggressive pressure that Capers uses so well.

So will the 49ers be aggressive like the Packers?

"We'd like to be," Fangio said. "(Capers) fell into a good situation at Green Bay. All of a sudden, they find two corners (Tramon Williams and Sam Shields), two really good cover corners besides (Charles) Woodson. So that allows you to be comfortable, to be more of a pressure team and not have to be kind of tricking them all of the time. It can be more direct pressure. He took advantage of that. You do what your players allow you to do."

Fangio said the 49ers will stick with the 3-4 defense, which has become the more predominant defense in the NFL. But it won't always look like a 3-4.

"We're a 3-4 base," he said. "We personnel it as a 3-4, but we'll do a lot of things out of it that will look, to the visual eye, like a 4-3, if that makes any sense. I like to say that we're a 3-4-3, a 3-4 that does 4-3 things also."

The 49ers have targeted an outside linebacker as one of their needs in the draft, but because so many teams use the 3-4 defense, Fangio said it won't be easy finding their man. Von Miller of Texas A&M could be the team's pick if he's still on the board at No. 7.

"It's been a big evolution," Fangio said. "Back in the early 2000s, I think there were only three or four teams that were running the 3-4. Now, it's about half. Yes, there are more teams looking for the same guys that we're looking for, so it will make it a little bit harder. But still, there are not a lot of teams in college football playing it, so any guys that you're looking at for that position are still going to be a projection to a degree, a leap of faith almost."

Based on what he's seen on film, Fangio said five-year veteran Ahmad Brooks might fit the role of a pass-rushing linebacker. Brooks had five sacks in 15 games (one start) this season.

"He played some for them last year and showed some potential," Fangio said. "I know he started his career with Cincinnati, then he's been here. I'm not even sure how long he's been here. Obviously he's a guy that has some ability but hadn't done it to this point. We have to figure out why he hasn't done it on a consistent basis. Can he or can't he? … We're searching."

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