After 24 years as an NFL assistant coach, Vic Fangio is five practices into his tenure as Stanford's defensive coordinator.
He has 11 years of experience as a defensive coordinator for three NFL teams: the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans. Last year, he worked for Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's brother, John, who is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Now he's charged with transforming a defense that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-10 in most key statistical categories.
The Cardinal won't go back to work with its second spring session until March 30, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Fangio and take the measure of his nibble of college coaching.
Having worked for two Harbaughs, what's the difference in terms of personalities?
Vic Fangio: Oh, it's too early to tell. They are similar but also different in their own ways. It's too early to see -- I haven't gone through a season.
I know you've answered this question a few times already, but why after so many years in the NFL to you take a swing at college coaching?
VF: The timing was right. I've gotten to know Jim the last couple of years and I kind of like what he's got going on out here. We've talked about it in the past as early as late last season. At that time I didn't think I would. But he did a good job recruiting. This just seemed to be right this time.
I know you've only had five practices, but what do you feel like the biggest adjustment will be going from the NFL to college?
VF: One is the hashmark differences. There truly is a wide side and short side in college football. There is in the NFL but not to the degree there is here. No. 2 is the different offenses you'll see here compared to the NFL. The quarterback can be more of a third running back than a quarterback. You get all the gun-read stuff and the option game. Although that rarely appears in the NFL, and it makes it a different game here.
What about recruiting: What are your responsibilities there?
VF: I'm from the Northeast, so that will be the part of the country I'll focus on. And the Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware -- up in that part of the country.
I would assume that, even without a lot of experience in recruiting, your NFL pedigree will be a selling point.
VF: We're going to try that. The defense we're going to use here, although we're going to have to make some adjustments for the differences in the offenses we'll be facing, will be an NFL-oriented defense. We feel like anybody who has aspirations to play at the next level will be getting great training here for playing for an potential NFL career.
I read a couple of things from Baltimore that talked about you being a no-nonsense kind of guy. I would think that approach might work pretty well at Stanford compared to you running into some prima donna aspect in the NFL. Is that a fair assessment?
VF: However I got that, that label is false. That's not my personality to begin with. But I think there's a misnomer in the NFL that you have a bunch of prima donna personalities. I never had any problems dealing with players in the NFL. People seem to forget those players came from the colleges. They don't make a drastic change once they leave campus and come to the NFL. They're still at the root the people they are. Now there's the business aspect in the NFL that does enter into the picture at times. But as a coach you try not to deal with that very much. I'm just going to be myself, whatever that is, that is who'll I'll be. I'm not going to try to change or be someone different just because I've changed the level of ball I'm coaching at.
I understand you're a 3-4 guy. I know writers sometimes make a bigger deal out of that than they should, but how are you guys incorporating that with Stanford personnel that was mostly 4-3 last year?
VF: We've obviously had to do some position changing with some of the players. Some of the players who were ends last year are now going to be 3-4 outside linebackers. The prerequisite for that position is to have some defensive end abilities in you because you are going to play on the line of scrimmage, predominantly, and you'll end up playing an outside rushing position, so you do have to have some defensive end abilities. Yet you do have to have enough athleticism and linebacker skills to be counted on to be involved in pass coverage at times.
Part II on Friday: Talking personnel and Fangio's coaching plans.