SANTA CLARA -- Step 1 for a new NFL coach: Lock yourself in a film room and study every catch, cut, backpedal and buttonhook by each player you've inherited.
That's what Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff did immediately after taking over the 49ers in January 2011. His counterpart on defense, however, played it cool. Vic Fangio wanted a close-up look at his new pupils that was unclouded by the defense their previous coaches had them playing. He wanted to take his time in picking out the top 11. And only when he had that group in mind would he settle on a scheme that suited them.
Fangio's patience outlasted a 132-day lockout. And after finally evaluating his new players, he made all the right moves.
He turned Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman into first-time starters for the 49ers, found a perfect role for raw rookie Aldon Smith and made Carlos Rogers, the wise and respected veteran of the secondary, his nickel cornerback.
Fangio's defense held opponents to 14.3 points a game, was virtually impenetrable against the run and landed four players in the Pro Bowl. Many expect that unit to carry the 49ers — a franchise made famous by Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Steve Young and one currently led by an ex-quarterback — to its sixth Super Bowl.
In a league in which the most famous defensive coordinators are hyper-aggressive — both in scheme and in personality — Fangio, 54, is the thinking man's alternative.
He's not a practice-field screamer.
“If he calls you out, he's going to call you out in a meeting behind closed doors,” said cornerback Perrish Cox.
Fangio spends game days in the relative quiet of the coaches' booth, and he is refreshingly honest both during his once-a-week news conferences and in the 49ers' meeting rooms.
“I think Vic was born with truth serum in his veins,” Harbaugh said. “It's not always popular, but he tells it like it is. And on a staff, in a working staff on a team, to be able to attack problems and get ideas on the table where the best idea wins — Vic is the leader on our staff in being able to do that.”