The Dolphins got their man. They started their offseason in style. They are hiring Vic Fangio as their defensive coordinator and got a smart, experienced football mind who knows how to strategically use leverage in a winning way.
You can see those attributes without seeing Fangio’s defenses. You just had to watch him deftly play the field of teams chasing him the past few weeks.
Fangio picked the Dolphins for reasons beyond simple roster talent or geographic location. Dolphins owner Steve Ross will make Fangio the highest-paid coordinator in the NFL.
This is how it works a lot of times in sports: The owner writing the biggest check wins. Ross has never backed down from spending money, because it’s the one way he gets to participate in the game.
The question with Ross has always been if he spends smartly in picking people to run the Dolphins. That’s not an issue with Fangio, no matter how it works out. He’s not just considered one of the top defensive minds in football in a way that had Carolina Panthers new coach Frank Reich recruiting him to the end.
Fangio is also so much Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel isn’t. He’s defense. McDaniel’s offense. He’s coached for 41 years. McDaniel is 39 years old. He has three years of NFL head coaching experience. McDaniel has one.
All this explains why McDaniel wanted to hire Fangio last winter when arriving at the Dolphins. It’s normally considered standard practice for a head coach to get to pick his staff. Nothing was normal last winter with this team.
McDaniel had to inherit defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, a hold-over from fired coach Brian Flores. The thinking by Ross, team president Tom Garfinkel and general manager Chris Grier was to keep a rising defense in the same system with the same coordinator.
It worked in some form. The defense won as many games as the offense this season. It had unexpected injuries to cover for, right from the first month when the secondary went down.
It’s no scar on Boyer’s career to be fired. Fangio has been a few times, most recently from his last job as Denver’s coach a year ago and teams were lining up for him this year to the point he could name his price.
That’s because everywhere Fangio has gone the defenses have excelled. He went to Carolina’s expansion team in 1995 and his defenses ranked in the top 10 in fewest points allowed in two of three years.
His San Francisco defenses ranked second, second and 10th. He took over a Chicago defense in 2016 that ranked 30th and by his third year it ranked ninth and his fourth year it was first.
That’s why Fangio was such a hot ticket on the free-agent market. He comes with the kind of experience that can smooth out some of the inexperience of a creative coach like McDaniel.
Dolphins fans don’t care so much how Fangio got here this winter. They just care he got here. Everyone loves a winner, especially on their way into town.
The Dolphins have had some good minds. They just didn’t always have them in the right places. The most recent example is Cincinnati’s wizard of a defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo, a secondary coach under former Dolphins coaches Joe Philbin and Adam Gase. He briefly was interim defensive coordinator before moving on because no one evidently saw his talent.
No one on the Dolphins had to recognize Fangio’s talent. Ross just had to pay for it. He’s paid for a lot of people and had a lot of false starts in 14 years as owner. He doesn’t have a playoff win to show for it.
Last offseason was as embarrassing a winter as a pro sports owner can have for Ross, being sued by his former coach, investigated by the league for tampering and then penalized with the loss of a 2023 first-round pick.
This offseason begins with a play to Ross’ strength. He wrote a big check for Fangio and the Dolphins take their first step toward the 2023 season in style. A year late, maybe. But not a dollar short.