ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – During the 49ers’ run of three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance, Jim Harbaugh’s teams were led by a talented and disciplined defense.
Four years after the 49ers passed over their defensive coordinator on those teams, Vic Fangio, for a promotion to head coach after Harbaugh’s departure, the Denver Broncos came calling.
Fangio, who is in his first summer as head coach of the Broncos, is leading his new team into two practices sessions against his former team before Denver and the 49ers square off in an exhibition game Monday night. He said he looks back with mostly fond memories on his time with the 49ers.
“We had great success there, so it’s always good to be part of good teams playing in meaningful games in the regular season and I think we had eight or nine playoff games while I was there,” Fangio told NBC Sports Bay Area following practice on Friday.
“They are all great experiences. I look back on that time as mostly with nothing but positive memories.”
The 49ers’ defense ranked in the top-five in the NFL in yards allowed with such All-Pro players on the unit as Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman from 2011 to 2014.
“We had great players, No. 1 – guys I really liked working with,” Fangio said. “I had good relationships with a lot of them. Still stay in touch with a lot of them. And they played good and hard together. They did what we asked them to do. For the most part, it resulted in good results. I look back on those guys with a lot of fondness.”
Despite being Harbaugh’s top assistant, Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head-coaching job in favor of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who proved to be overmatched with the responsibility.
Fangio said his experience with the 49ers and being interviewed for the head-coaching job in January 2015 all were part of the process in the steps he took to land his current job with the Broncos. He spent the past four seasons as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and developed his unit there into one of the best in the league, too.
Fangio, who will turn 61 next week, is a straight-shooter who clearly is doing it his way with the Broncos after all the experiences he has had from coaching professional football every season since 1984 -- with a one-year stop at Stanford to be on Harbaugh's staff in 2010.
“You pick and choose from everybody you work with,” he said. “I don’t take notes or anything like that. I just know what I’d do in the same situation and go with it.”