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How the Broncos’ new head coach has built two of this decade’s elite defensive units

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the winter of 2010, the San Francisco 49ers were turning the page on another season that ended without a playoff berth.

In the wake of eight such seasons, they turned to Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to revitalize the team and return the franchise to its standard level of success.

When Harbaugh arrived in the Bay Area, he brought with him a veteran defensive play-caller from Stanford to help turn around a unit that in 2010 finished in the bottom third in the league in passing yards allowed per game and takeaways.

Vic Fangio would soon prove his value to a team that, in one season, went from a 6-10 record to an NFC Championship appearance.

That 2011 season was the start of an eight-year stretch in which Fangio’s defenses have ranked among the NFL’s best. In San Francisco — and later in Chicago — Fangio transformed two of the league’s worst units into two of the NFL’s elite.

Call it the Vic Fangio effect.

The now-33-year NFL coaching veteran had held three previous stints as an NFL defensive coordinator when he arrived in the Bay Area. He guided the expansion Carolina Panthers (1995-98), the Indianapolis Colts (1999-2001) and the expansion Houston Texans (2002-05). And during Fangio’s time with those teams, his defenses showed glimpses of excellence. He led the Panthers to the NFL’s eighth-best scoring defense in 1995, and the unit improved to have the league’s second-best scoring defense a year later. In Houston, Fangio’s defenses were also near the top of the league in several key categories, including third-down defense and red-zone defense.

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