Eric Mangini's hiring as a senior consultant, ostensibly to help the San Francisco 49ers' offense prepare for opposing defenses, raises obvious questions about longer-term implications. It's reasonable to wonder whether the 49ers have lined up their next defensive coordinator.
Vic Fangio has, by all accounts, done a very good job in that role. Fangio remains the 49ers' defensive coordinator. He could very well continue in the role for many years to come.
However, Mangini built his reputation as a defensive coach. He wanted back into the NFL, but it's safe to assume this newly created job is a means to another end, not the end itself. Mangini will be more than a senior consultant for someone at some point in the not-too-distant future. The 49ers know this. They have surely thought through the possibilities.
One such possibility: Mangini becomes a head coaching candidate next offseason, bypassing a coordinator's role. In that scenario, he would be no threat to anyone on the 49ers' current staff.
Mangini has ties to prominent people in the 49ers organization, including general manager Trent Baalke and special-teams coach Brad Seely. And if you've been paying attention to the 49ers this offseason, you know Baalke cited "philosophical" reasons for the team using a small rotation along its defensive line. Perhaps the comment was innocent. For me, it recalled Fangio's tenure as defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts in the early 2000s. Back then, the Colts were going with younger, less accomplished players on defense. Fangio was known to favor veterans such as the ones San Francisco has used extensively on its defensive line. Bill Polian, then the Colts' president, fired coach Jim Mora when Mora refused to fire Fangio.
I'm not saying the 49ers are plotting to replace Fangio with Mangini. I do think it's worth considering the history and potential implications associated with adding a high-profile defensive coach when there's already an established defensive coordinator on staff, at a time when teams increasingly must win with younger players.
Mangini is known for finding creative ways to use personnel. He can help the 49ers devise offensive strategies based on opponents' defenses. He would be a natural successor for Fangio if another team hired Fangio as head coach. To this point, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been the 49ers assistant drawing the most interest on that front. Mangini, though associated primarily with the defensive side of the ball, might be versatile enough as a coach to provide some insurance if Roman took another job. He will be focusing on the offensive side of the ball this season, at least.
For those reasons, just about everyone associated with the 49ers should be excited about this move. Time will tell if Fangio should be one of them.