Vic Fangio: Err on 'correct side'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Without emotion or even rancor in his voice, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday he wants to see the NFL improve its calling of illegal hits.

San Francisco safety Donte Whitner -- who said this week he is legally changing his last name to "Hitner," partly as a protest of what he thinks are unjust penalties -- has been penalized for illegal hits the past two weeks and was fined $21,000 on Tuesday for a Week 4 hit.

Fangio said, from the angles he saw on Whtiner's hit on the Rams' Chris Givens, that it was a "good play." In Week 3, Whitner was penalized for using the crown of his helmet, but the NFL later admitted it was a legal hit.

The straight-shooting Fangio was asked his thoughts, and he gave them.

"They need to err on the correct side, not on the safe side," Fangio said. "Because if it is an illegal hit, the guy will get fined on Monday or Tuesday. If you miss it as an official, that doesn't mean that it's over and done with. ... The part that's hard about it all is the league has instructed officials to err on the side of caution, so they're going to throw the flag no matter what."

Fangio said that often, "great" defensive plays initially look illegal and he thinks that's why officials have been quick to throw penalty flags with such an emphasis on safety.

"They should be fining the quarterback for throwing these guys into those big hits," Fangio quipped.

The 49ers tweeted a preview of Whitner's new jersey Wednesday.

Fangio was asked his thoughts on Whitner's pending name change.

"He did not consult me before he made that decision," Fangio said.

For what it's worth, Whitner tweeted Thursday that he will go back to "Whitner" when his NFL career is over.