Making sense of Vic Fangio’s awkward exit from Dolphins

When an NFL team and a coach “part ways,” it’s often a euphemism for: He got fired.

So when the Miami Dolphins released a statement on Wednesday saying that they were parting ways with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, it sure looked like a firing. A surprising one, for sure, but a firing nonetheless.

In his lone season with Miami, Fangio’s defense allowed the 11th-most points per game (23) and played a big part in the Chiefs’ wild-card blowout over the Dolphins, who had yet another one-and-done postseason. Miami had only marginally improved on defense after finishing ninth in points allowed per game (23.5) in 2022 under former defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.

I didn’t initially like the decision to part ways with Fangio. The logic didn’t track. Even if Fangio wasn’t the guy the Dolphins hoped he’d be in Year 1, his system is notoriously challenging to teach and learn. Miami had a great number of injuries, which meant he was constantly coaching up the next man up. Surely, Year 2 would be better with a foundation of the system. And if nothing else, it’s destructive to change coordinators every year. The Dolphins are onto their third DC in as many years.

But then the situation took a twist.

Shortly after news broke that Fangio was leaving the Dolphins, there was more news: He was likely to land with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

He already had his next job lined up?

“The fit with Mike McDaniel and Vic Fangio — there was a lot to like. … But I’m not sure this was as smooth a ride as it seemed from the outside or maybe as it seemed from ‘Hard Knocks,'” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said on Wednesday. “The reason why a mutual parting makes sense is because it does remove Vic Fangio to get out now and potentially to look at other defensive coordinator opportunities.”

But Fangio didn’t look at opportunities. He looked at one opportunity. He is already the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, per reports. It’s done.

What was the biggest reason the Chiefs beat the Dolphins?

What was the biggest reason the Chiefs beat the Dolphins?

You don’t often see things move that quickly after a parting of ways. Look at Bill Belichick, who “parted ways” with the Patriots on Jan. 11 but remains jobless. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are clearing house on their defensive side of the ball. The timing on that is weird, too. You don’t often see that sort of thing happening over a week after their final game of the season.

“I want to thank Vic for his contributions in 2023. When we assessed the season, it became apparent that this was the best path forward for all parties involved,” said Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel. “Now, we turn our focus to 2024 and beyond with urgency.”

Urgency will be important as they work to replace Fangio. Lucky for Miami, there will be plenty of candidates out there. It has not been a kind offseason for recently fired defensive-minded head coaches like Brandon Staley, Belichick and Mike Vrabel. Belichick and Vrabel are not going to take defensive coordinator positions, but Staley likely will. He is a candidate in Miami, per Rapoport.

But when it came to Fangio, the Dolphins’ official statement wasn’t the only thing that made it out of the locker room.

The drama escalated on social media. A handful of current and former Dolphins reacted with cryptic (or not-so cryptic) posts.

Safety Jevon Holland posted a video to Instagram of him kicking rocks — a message to Fangio, no doubt. And Holland might have been the most important player — the quarterback — in Fangio’s complicated defense. They worked together closely.

Holland’s father, Robert, took to Twitter.

He wrote: “Everybody loves the IPhone but nobody wants the IPhone #1. #Upgrade.”

Rookie cornerback Cam Smith, a 2023 second-round pick who played just 20 snaps all year, posted an unlocked emoji.

If Holland is telling Fangio to kick rocks and Smith feels his potential is about to get unlocked with a new coordinator, then it’s clear that everything in Miami was messier than it looked. And it has magnified strange moments from earlier this year.

During the season, cornerback Jalen Ramsey appeared visibly frustrated when he informed reporters it was not the game plan to have him shadow Dallas Cowboys top receiver CeeDee Lamb. When Ramsey was asked whether he’d welcome the challenge of Lamb, the cornerback said: “Next question.”

Perhaps there was more frustration bubbling under the surface than we realized.

And then there was the question of Fangio possibly wanting to land with Philly, instead of Miami, last summer. He was asked whether he would have been the Eagles’ DC if not for the Jonathan Gannon tampering situation.

“That’s possible,” Fangio said, via NFL reporter Kendall Beck. “But I won’t — I’ll neither confirm nor deny it.” 

Well, now he gets what — maybe — he wanted in the first place. Fangio is joining the Eagles’ staff. 

And while the Dolphins are going to have to hustle to find a new defensive coordinator and their players are going to spend another offseason learning a new system, it might all be for the better. The whole situation casts doubt on whether Fangio wanted to be in Miami in the first place — and, in turn, whether he was doing his best job in Miami. 

It might have initially seemed like the Dolphins fired Fangio. But from the looks of things, he may have fired the Dolphins.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.


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