Jim Harbaugh, who earlier this month lobbied for a better contract for top assistant Vic Fangio, got exactly that today when Fangio was given both a raise and an extension. Fangio's contract, which was set to expire after the 2014 season, now runs through 2015, which is when Harbaugh's deal is scheduled to expire. The new deal makes Fangio among the highest paid defensive coordinators in the league.
Fangio's defenses have ranked 4th, 3rd and 5th in the NFL since he took over in 2011. Those units ranked 13th, 15th and 13th in the three seasons before he arrived. Unlike his offensive counterpart, Greg Roman, Fangio has autonomy over the defense, and he also coaches the outside linebackers. He is the only coordinator in the league who also is in charge of a position group.
Before Fangio arrived with the 49ers, players like outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, defensive end Ray McDonald and cornerback Tarell Brown never had been full-time starters with the team. Fangio gave them bigger responsibilities, and they flourished in his three-four defensive scheme. He also carved out roles that season for then-rookies Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver. With Brown now in Oakland, Culliver is a frontrunner to start at cornerback this season.
While protesting the notion that he wanted to be the highest paid head coach in the NFL, Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated earlier this month that Fangio deserved more money. "He has not had a raise since he's been here," he said. "Focus on that."
Meanwhile, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell also received a two-year extension earlier this month. Donatell has long been considered a candidate for defensive coordinator. The 49ers blocked interview requests by the Saints and Buccaneers in recent seasons because Donatell was under contract. He did not receive any interview requests prior to his extension. Donatell would be a candidate to run the 49ers' defense should Fangio leave for a head-coaching job in coming years.
Donatell also deserves credit for Culliver's development as well as that of Eric Reid, the team's first-round pick a year ago. The 49ers figure to draft a cornerback - and perhaps another safety - early in the May draft. The team attended the pro-day workouts of two highly rated cornerbacks, TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby, earlier this month.
-- Matt Barrows