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Who could replace Vic Fangio as Dolphins defensive coordinator? Taking a look at the candidates

The Miami Dolphins have swung into the coaching carousel with the news on Wednesday that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will not return in 2024. Who could be his replacement?

NFL: AUG 19 Preseason - Dolphins at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio mutually agreed to part ways on Wednesday, opening a major vacancy on the Dolphins’ coaching staff for 2024. The move is probably not an overly surprising one, as Fangio and Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel never seemed a perfect fit and, while the Miami defense found success, it always felt like a temporary position for Fangio. The early speculation is Fangio could be looking to return to Pennsylvania and assume the Philadelphia Eagles’ vacant defensive coordinator position - a position he was expected to take last year before joining the Dolphins.

While it appears Fangio will immediately land on his feet with the Eagles, the Dolphins now need to fill their defensive coordinator position. Who could take the position? We run through some of the top candidates for the job.

Early Favorites

Anthony Campanile, Miami Dolphins linebackers coach

NFL: SEP 29 Dolphins at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Age: 41

  • NFL: Dolphins (2020-Present)
  • College: Michigan (2019, LB Coach); Boston College (2016-2018; Defensive Backs Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator); Rutgers (2012-2015, Defensive Assistant, Tight Ends Coach, Wide Receivers Coach)

The most obvious move for the Dolphins would be to promote linebackers coach Anthony Campanile to the defensive coordinator position. He is an in-demand coach who is being considered for coordinator positions for other teams. Why not keep him in Miami, keep some continuity with the coaching staff, and promote a rising star?

Brandon Staley, former Los Angeles Chargers head coach

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Age: 41

  • NFL: Chargers (2021-2023, Head Coach); Los Angeles Rams (2020, Defensive Coordinator); Denver Broncos (2019, Outside Linebackers Coach); Chicago Bears (2017-2018, Outside Linebackers Coach)
  • College: John Carroll (2013/2015-2016, Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach); James Madison (2014, Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach); Tennessee (2012, Graduate Assistant); St. Thomas (2009, Defensive Line and Special Teams Coach); Northern Illinois (2006-2008, Graduate Assistant)

Nearly as soon as the news broke that Fangio was leaving the Dolphins, there was a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport linking former Chargers head coach Brandon Staley to the Dolphins. Staley’s defense during his season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator was ranked the top unit in the league and the top-scoring defense in the league.

Potential Targets

Shane Bowen, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Age: 37

  • NFL: Titans (2018-Present, Outside Linebackers Coach, Defensive Coordinator); Houston Texans (2016-2017, Defensive Assistant)
  • College: Kennesaw State (2013-2015, Linebacker Coach); Ohio State (2012, Graduate Assistant); Georgia Tech (2009-2011, Student Assistant, Graduate Assistant)

Technically, Bowen is still the defensive coordinator for the Titans, but as they clear out the Mike Vrabel era and begin the Brian Callahan coaching era in Tennessee, Bowen likely will be let go at some point. He has already been allowed to interview with the New York Giants and the Jacksonville Jaguars. He could be on the Dolphins’ radar as well.

Sean Desai, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator

Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Age: 40

  • NFL: Eagles (2023, Defensive Coordinator); Seattle Seahawks (2022, Associate Head Coach and Defensive Assistant); Chicago Bears (2013-2021, Defensive Quality Control Coach, Safeties Coach, Defensive Coordinator)
  • College: Boston College (2012, Running Backs Coach and Special Teams Coordinator); Miami (2011, Assistant Director of Football operations); Temple (2006-2010, Graduate Assistant, Outside Linebackers Coach and Special Teams Coordinator)

Could the Dolphins and Eagles simply flip coordinators? Desai interviewed last year for Miami’s defensive coordinator position, but Fangio taking the job led to Desai joining the Eagles. Given the speed with which Philadelphia fired him and the clear move to grab Fangio this year, it does seem like they always knew Desai was a placeholder for one season. Reports indicated during the year that Eagles head coach Nick Siriani pulled Desai’s responsibilities, giving them to defensive assistant Matt Patricia and that Desai struggled with his confidence during the year. Would a move to Miami give him back the confidence to take over Miami’s defense?

Chris Harris, Tennessee Titans defensive passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach

Syndication: The Tennessean Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Age: 41

  • NFL: Titans (2023-Present, Defensive Passing Game Coordinator and Cornerbacks Coach); Washington Commanders (2020-2022, Defensive Backs Coach); San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2016-2019, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach); Chicago Bears (2013-2014, Defensive Quality Control Coach)

Former safety Chris Harris retired after the 2012 season and immediately moved into the coaching ranks. He is now an in-demand coordinator candidate and the Dolphins could look to bring him to South Florida.

Wink Martindale, former New York Giants defensive coordinator

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Age: 60

  • NFL: Giants (2022-2023, Defensive Coordinator); Baltimore Ravens (2012-2021, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Coordinator); Denver Broncos (2009-2010, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Coordinator); Oakland Raiders (2004-2008, Linebackers Coach)
  • College: Western Kentucky (2000-2003, Inside Linebackers Coach and Defensive Coordinator); Western Illinois (1999, Linebackers Coach and Defensive Coordinator); Cincinnati (1996-1998, Special teams and Linebackers Coach); Notre Dame (1994-1995, Assistant Coach); Defiance 1986-1987 (Defensive Coordinator)

McDaniel’s attraction to adding Fangio to the staff was, in part, due to his experience as compared to the one-season of working as a head coach McDaniel had at the time. Now with two years, but an open defensive coordinator position again, Miami might again lean toward adding a veteran assistant to the staff. Martindale’s defenses with the Giants the last two years were not spectacular, but he is a blitz-happy defensive play caller and Miami’s defense was built on the blitz under Brian Flores and Josh Boyer. Could they look to return to the additional rusher concept in 2024?

Kris Richard, former New Orleans Saints Co-Defensive Coordinator

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Age: 44

  • NFL: Saints (2021-2022, Defensive Backs Coach, Secondary Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator); Dallas Cowboys (2018-2019, Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordiator); Seattle Seahawks (2010-207, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach, Defensive Backs Coach, Defensive Coordinator)
  • College: USC (2008-2009, Graduate Assistant)

Richard did not coach last year, but he was also interviewed for the Dolphins defensive coordinator position before they hired Fangio. Could he be back in the mix this season? A former cornerback, Richard had a brief stint with the Dolphins as a player but never appeared in a game and was released a month after Miami acquired him in a trade from the Seahawks. He also interviewed for the Dolphins’ head coaching position in 2019, before the team hired Brian Flores

Ron Rivera, former Washington Commanders head coach

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Age: 62

  • NFL: Commanders (2020-2023, Head Coach); Carolina Panthers (2011-2019, Head Coach); San Diego Chargers (2007-2010, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Coordinator); Chicago Bears (2004-2006, Defensive Coordinator; 1997-1998, Defensive Quality Control Coach); Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003, Linebackers Coach)

Similar to Martindale above, Rivera could give the Dolphins coaching staff some experience and provide a sounding board for McDaniel. Although his last two jobs were head coaching positions, he interviewed for the Eagles’ defensive coordinator job this offseason after being let go by the Commanders. He did say after he was fired by Washington that sometimes you have to take a step back and grow - and that he enjoyed taking over the defensive play calling in Washington. Maybe a return to a defensive coordinator role is exactly what he needs.

Terrell Williams, Tennessee Titans assistant head coach and defensive line coach

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Age: 49

  • NFL: Titans (2018-Present, Defensive Line Coach and Assistant Head Coach); Miami Dolphins (2015-2017, Defensive Line Coach); Oakland Raiders (2012-2014, Defensive Line Coach)
  • College: Texas A&M (2010-2011, Defensive Line Coach); Purdue (2006-2009, Defensive Line Coach); Akron (2004-2005, Defensive Line Coach); Youngstown State (2002-2003, Defensive Line Coach); North Carolina A&T (1999-2001, Defensive Line Coach); Fort Scott Community College (1998, Defensive Line Coach)

He has been on a couple of teams’ radars already this year and the former Dolphins defensive line coach has a solid track record in South Florida - he made the transition from Joe Philbin to Adam Gase’s staff and Cameron Wake flourished under Williams.

Wildcard/Long Shot/Just Because

Bill Belichick, former New England Patriots head coach

New York Jets v New England Patriots

Age: 71

  • NFL: Patriots (2000-2023, Head Coach; 1996, Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Backs Coach); New York Jets (1997-1999, Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator (and head coach for one day)); Cleveland Browns (1991-1995, Head Coach); New York Giants (1980-1990, Linebackers and Special Teams Coach, Defensive Coordinator); Denver Broncos (1978, Assistant Special Teams Coach and Defensive Assistant); Detroit Lions (1976-1977, Wide Receivers Coach, Assistant Special Teams Coach); Baltimore Colts (1975, Special Assistant)

If you can’t beat them, join them. Belichick could not beat the Dolphins, so could he join them? Hahahahaha. You know this is not happening - Belichick is not taking a defensive coordinator position if he does not land a head coaching position this offseason. He is a head coach only at this point, and he is only wanting to get Don Shula’s all-time wins record. But it is funny to list him here.

Rex Ryan, former Buffalo Bills head coach

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Age: 61

  • NFL: Bills (2015-2016, Head Coach); New York Jets (2009-2014, Head Coach); Baltimore Ravens (1999-2008, Defensive Line Coach, Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach); Arizona Cardinals (1994-1995, Defensive Line and Linebackers Coach)
  • College: Oklahoma (1998, Defensive Coordinator); Cincinnati (1996-1997, Defensive Coordinator); Morehead State (1990-1993, Defensive Coordinator); New Mexico Highlands (1989, Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator); Eastern Kentucky (1987-1988, Graduate Assistant)

I do not think this is going to happen, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. Ryan has interviewed for defensive coordinator positions, including with the Denver Broncos last year, but does not seem in a rush to take a job just to get back into coaching. He would check the same experience box Martindale and Rivera check above, and Ryan has coached for two of the four AFC East teams, so he could make it three with this move.