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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 9, 2011
Fangio, Capers have similar 3-4 origins

Anyone wondering what a 49ers defense might look like under Vic Fangio -- assuming the Stanford defensive coordinator joins Jim Harbaugh in Santa Clara - ought to hit re-wind on today's Green Bay Packers game. Fangio and Green Bay's defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, have a long history together. Fangio twice has served as Capers' defensive coordinator when Capers was head coach in Carolina and Houston.

The two started coaching professional football together under Jim Mora for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL. That team's famed "Doghouse Defense" blitzed often and was one of the first to bring pass rushers from an array of angles. Many of the blitzes Capers uses today had their origins in the USFL 25 years ago and the experience influenced both men. The Stars appeared in all three of the league's championship games and won two of them.

When the USFL folded, Mora was hired as the Saints head coach. Fangio followed him to New Orleans where he coached linebackers. The Saints initially used a 4-3 defense but eventually turned to a 3-4 system that featured the "Dome Patrol" - a fearsome linebacking corps that included All-Pro linebackers Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson. (Incidentally, where have all the good nicknames gone?)

Fangio was Mora's defensive coordinator in Indianapolis from 1999-2001. Mora was fired after the 2001 season in part because he refused to fire Fangio after the defense finished 29th in the league. (More rankings below). The next season Fangio was hired by Capers as his defensive coordinator in Houston.

Fangio has operated both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes but, like Capers, he seems to prefer the latter. Last year he took over Stanford's wobbly 4-3 system, transformed it into a 3-4 (the Cardinal actually played out of both formations at times) and allowed opponents 17.8 points per game this past season, the best average in the Pac-10 and 11th in the nation.

And, of course, Fangio would take over a 3-4 defense should he join the 49ers. The team's current defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, interviewed for the Panthers head coaching job on Saturday.

Fangio spent 11 NFL seasons as a defensive coordinator. The Panthers and Texans were expansion teams when he joined them. Here are the respective rankings of Fangio's defenses.

1995: 7th
1996: 10th
1997: 15th
1998: 30th (last in the league)

1999: 15th
2000: 21st
2001: 29th

2002: 16th
2003: 31st
2004: 23rd
2005: 31st

Monday: 3-4 or 4-3; What should the 49ers run?

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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