Say what he would, no one quite believed John Fox that the Denver Broncos, the team that excused him from their head-coach position, represented just another team on the schedule.
For Vic Fangio, the San Francisco 49ers weren’t the team that dismissed him as head coach. They were the team that never even gave him the chance after years of experience and major success as defensive coordinator.
Starting in 2011, Fangio took a doormat 49ers defense into a perennial spot among the NFL’s elite. Yet when Jim Harbaugh was ousted as 49ers head coach, Fangio was given only what was considered a perfunctory courtesy interview for the top job, then watched it go to Jim Tomsula, Fangio’s defensive line coach.
Sources said that Fangio and Tomsula did not get along especially well, and that Fangio was unhappy at being passed over for Tomsula.
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"That's their decision and their choice," Fangio said on Wednesday. "I always accepted it's their decision and their team."
Beyond that, Fangio took the high road, pointing to "a lot of fond memories" from his 49ers tenure.
For all of his successes directing defenses — Fangio teams have been in the playoffs 13 of his 29 seasons coaching at the NFL level — Fangio has never been a head coach at any level, beyond special assistant to the head coach/defense from 2006-08 with the Baltimore Ravens.
Even Adam Gase got a more serious look from the 49ers. But the dysfunction that was evident through Harbaugh’s last year continued and arguably intensified as Gase wanted to keep Fangio as defensive coordinator, but 49ers ownership wanted Tomsula promoted to that spot.
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However, general manager Trent Baalke maintained that Gase was never offered the job, saying during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, “the job for the 49ers was offered to one person and one person only and that's Jim Tomsula."
Not that Fangio needed any particular motivation, but Baalke likely gave him some.