The Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers Both Make Awful Defensive Coordinator Hires

The Redskins and 49ers both made hires for their open Defensive Coordinator positions this week and both teams made the wrong choice by hiring retreads with proven track records of failure instead of coaches who could lead to some improvement for both of their units.

The 49ers fired most of Jim Harbaugh’s defensive staff, except for promoting Jim Tomsula from Defensive Line Coach to Head Coach. With a defensive minded coach, it would be expected that he would be essentially running the defense with a glorified position coach who carries the Defensive Coordinator title. And perhaps that’s what the 49ers had in mind when they interviewed a number of position coaches for the defensive coordinator title with Vance Joseph being the one who they wanted the most (the Bengals blocked the interview). Instead, they took a curious route and promoted their Tight Ends coach, former Jets and Browns head coach Eric Mangini, to Defensive Coordinator.

Scheme wise this is going to be a big mistake for the 49ers, at least in the short term. Fangio’s system was far more simple and didn’t blitz as much as a typical 3-4 defense (the pass rush was expected to be generated by four rusher on every play). Mangini, at least in his previous stops in the NFL as a defensive playcaller, has relied on the blitz nearly 17% more than Fangio has (Fangio’s blitz percentage is usually around 25%, Mangini 41.5%). Also, Fangio’s defense is built on the idea of execution, not scheme. Mangini is from the Belichick school of defense, so the personnel will have a different scheme to learn each week tailored to their opponent. If a team has decided to make such a radical change in their defensive philosophy, and it is possible that Mangini is changing from what he’s done in the past, then it begs the question: why not just make a total system change and make significant changes to the personnel? The 49ers seem to think that they’re going to see consistency from the Fangio era to the Mangini era just based on the personnel that they have. This is a major fallacy to start your 2015 season on.  

Speaking of Vic Fangio, he was widely assumed to be headed to Washington to join Scot McCloughan in the waning days of the Jay Gruden era in DC. The Redskins had cast a wide net in their search for a new defensive boss, even approaching Wade Phillips as early as April 2014 to discuss replacing Jim Haslett. Phillips, whose son is an offensive assistant on Gruden’s staff, passed on the opportunity multiple times supposedly because he (and the rest of the league) believes that unless Jay Gruden wins the NFC East in 2015, he’ll be fired. In the end, Fangio spurned the Redskins’ advanced and took the Chicago Defensive Coordinator job. A source close to the situation tells Vavel that Jay Gruden’s job security was the deciding factor for Fangio and that the Redskins refused to give Fangio some sort of guarantee that he would get a chance at the head coach’s job after Jay Gruden or would be the Defensive Coordinator for whomever replaces Gruden in 2016. In the end, Washington ended up with the hire that they were reportedly interested in before Fangio became an option: San Diego LBs coach Joe Barry.

Joe Barry was the defensive coordinator during the Detroit Lions’ awful seasons in 2007 and 2008 and has been bouncing between the college and pros as a LBs coach since then. He’s also a member of the “Traveling Sisterhood of ex-Tampa Bay coaches that worked with Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden” and almost certainly was a cheap hire for the franchise. Barry is a disciple of Rod Marinelli’s defense, almost certainly reinforced by the fact that he’s Marinelli’s son in law. However, in Washington he will continue the 3 front defense and much like Jim Haslett claims (and lied about) he’s promising to run a more aggressive one gap variant of the 3-4 defense. The main advantage of the Barry hire, at least to new GM Scot McCloughan, is that they made it publicly clear that the decision of the defensive coordinator spot was “up to Jay Gruden” so if he struggles this is just another shovel of dirt on the career of Gruden in DC.

Both teams made hires for these important positions for the wrong reasons. They didn’t hire the best coordinator available, nor did they hire coaches that were up and coming assistants that had earned a chance at more responsibility. They hired retread coaches with bad track records and they did it out of laziness. It is possible that both failed for reasons outside of their control, but its far more likely than neither coach has their current job to start 2016.