San Francisco 49ers

Mixed blessing for Eric Mangini, likely to return to defensive roots as 49ers coordinator

Then-consultant Eric Mangini, left, speaking with reporters after a 2013 practice, may become the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, replacing Vic Fangio.
Then-consultant Eric Mangini, left, speaking with reporters after a 2013 practice, may become the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, replacing Vic Fangio. The Associated Press

Eric Mangini appears poised to take over one of the NFL’s top defenses in the past four seasons.

Consider it a mixed blessing. On one hand, he would work with talented linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith as well as a secondary captained by a safety, Antoine Bethea, who will play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl.

On the other, Mangini would have to meet the expectations set by his predecessor, Vic Fangio, who was dismissed last week and who quickly found a job – alongside former 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell – with the Chicago Bears. Fangio’s unit finished fifth or better in each of his four seasons in San Francisco, including 2014, when the defense was laid bare by injuries and suspensions.

The Sacramento Bee first reported the 49ers’ interest in Mangini earlier this week; ESPN on Thursday reported that he is expected to get the job. The 49ers have yet to announce any additions to coach Jim Tomsula’s staff.

Mangini has spent the past two years coaching 49ers tight ends. His background before 2013, however, was on defense, especially with defensive backs. Mangini, 44, was the Patriots’ secondary coach (2000-04) before being promoted to New England’s defensive coordinator in 2005.

He then served as a head coach for five years, first with the New York Jets (2006-08) and then the Cleveland Browns (2009-10). He spent two years as a television analyst before joining coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff in 2013.

The 49ers had considered Vance Joseph as their defensive coordinator. Joseph, however, is Cincinnati’s secondary coach, and the Bengals have blocked him from interviewing with other teams, specifically the 49ers and Denver Broncos.

Mangini did not make a mark as a tight ends coach.

The 49ers’ offense was decidedly more wide-receiver-heavy in 2014 than in previous seasons. Vernon Davis, the team’s top tight end, had just 26 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in Week 1. Vance McDonald, a second-round pick in 2013, had two catches for 30 yards and finished the season with a back injury.

The job of resuscitating the tight ends will go to former Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano, who coached tight ends with three teams from 2001 through 2004.

Like Mangini, Sparano also has several years of head-coaching experience. He was in charge of the Miami Dolphins from 2008 through 2011. Sparano was named the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2012 and the next year joined the Raiders as offensive-line coach. When the Raiders began this season 0-4, head coach Dennis Allen was fired and Sparano tapped to run the team. Oakland finished 3-13, with one of the wins coming over the 49ers in Week 14.

Another candidate to join Tomsula’s staff, Perry Fewell, also has been a head coach. Fewell, 52, led the Buffalo Bills on an interim basis after Dick Jauron was fired in 2009. Fewell was the team’s defensive coordinator before that and served as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator for the past six seasons before being let go Jan. 7.

According to NBC4 in Washington, D.C., Fewell will interview with the 49ers, presumably for the position of defensive backs coach, something he did for eight seasons early in his career.

Mangini, meanwhile, has experience with 3-4-type defenses, which is what the 49ers ran under Fangio. However, the two men have different styles.

The players liked operating under Fangio because the assignments were simple and allowed them to play with abandon. Mangini, meanwhile, hails from the Bill Belichick school of defense that calls for dense, scheme-heavy game plans that vary from week to week.

The 49ers likely would be more aggressive under Mangini than they were with Fangio, who seldom blitzed. Instead, he preferred to drop his speedy linebackers into coverage. The 49ers led the NFL in interceptions in 2014 and tied for second in 2011.

The 49ers also are expected to sign former Jets special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey, 41, who worked alongside Tomsula with the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe in 2002. Tomsula coached the defensive line, and McGaughey worked with special teams and defensive backs.

It’s not known whom the 49ers will land at offensive coordinator. They could be waiting to see how things play out with Indianapolis Colts assistant Rob Chudzinski. His contract expires next week, which could allow the 49ers and St. Louis Rams – the only teams that still need an offensive coordinator – to meet with Chudzinski.

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