Worth the wait: Dolphins win big as defensive ace Vic Fangio ends doubt, commits to Miami | Opinion

Jack Dempsey/AP

In sports as in life, sometimes you have to wait. There is a reason the phrase credited to medieval English writer William Langland in his circa 1370s poem “Piers Plowman” is still said all these centuries later: Patience is a virtue.

That it might be rewarded is its value. Especially when the reward is great enough.

So the Miami Dolphins waited for Vic Fangio. And waited. And then won.

A franchise with a big need for one just landed the best defensive coordinator available in the NFL.

On Sunday the two sides had agreed to terms. Then there seemed to be doubts, and rumors Fangio might go to San Francisco instead, or Denver. Atlanta wanted him too. And Philadelphia didn’t want to lose him.

Four days later, on Thursday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported: “After speaking with multiple teams about their defensive coordinator position, Vic Fangio has decided to join the Dolphins and officially will accept the position on the Miami staff after the Super Bowl.”

The wait is because Fangio spent this past season as a Philadelphia Eagles defensive consultant. The consultations must have gone pretty well. Philly’s defense is why the Birds are playing Kansas City for the championship -- just the latest nod to Fangio’s acumen at defensive football.

I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is big.

Based on Miami’s need dovetailing with Fangio’s track record, this is very big.

It might not be trading-for-Tyreek Hill-huge in the fireworks category, but it’s as big any coaching staff hire below the head coach level can get.

I had heard and read the notion the Dolphins should have given Fangio an ultimatum, a deadline, or moved on immediately from him in a huff because he has bruised the franchise ego by first agreeing to terms with Miami, then hesitated as he dared consider other options, other suitors.

To anyone who thought I would gift a calendar.

It is barely February. Training camp is almost six months away. The 2023 NFL regular season is more than seven months away.

The idea you had to have a defensive coordinator in place right this minute was ludicrous. Sooner-the-better always applies, sure. You’d like the new DC’s input as you enter free agency and prepare for the draft. But if the man you’re after is this good (and Fangio is), you should not only wait, you should be prepared to sweeten the offer and play hardball with San Francisco and Denver and anybody else as they tried to take what you thought was yours.

The Miami Hurricanes went through this recently when five-star recruit Cormani McClain committed to UM, then waffled, then signed with Deion Sanders and Colorado. Mario Cristobal, swallowed his pride to wait it out and even to grovel after him. You don’t do that for everybody, but you might for a national top-five cornerback.

The Canes lost McClain. The Dolphins could not afford to with Fangio. It would have been a much bigger loss and embarrassment for the Fins to lose the whale they were sure they’d caught.

The timeline made it understandable, though, why Fangio might choose to explore options that came open.

On Sunday, NFL.com’s tapped-in Tom Pelissero reported Miami and Fangio had agreed to terms on deal to make him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive coordinator on a three-year deal with a fourth-year team option. They were getting a Grade- A hire to replace fired Josh Boyer. “Huge get for Mike McDaniel,” wrote Pelissero.

Of course, team and coach are not married until the contract is signed. “Agreed to terms” means you’re headed to the church but it’s a non-binding engagement. Still, on Sunday, Dolfans were celebrating what seemed a pending wedding.

Monday came hints the nuptial was far from consummated.

Tuesday came an explosion.

Two, actually.

The Houston Texans hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans as their new head coach.

And the Denver Broncos hired available head coach Sean Payton, so coveted they sent three drafts picks to New Orleans for his rights including a 2023 first rounder.

All at once the 49ers needed someone to run their defense -- the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL this season in fewest points and yards allowed. The one with Nick Bosa. (Fangio was the Niners’ DC in 2011-14.)

And all at once Denver -- its own solid defense carrying the team this season -- had an elite head coach who reportedly wanted to bring Fangio back to the Broncos, who fired him in 2021 after a 19-30 record in three years as head coach. He was miscast as a head coach. He’s a mahatma of defensive football. It’s who he is.

That’s why he spent the 2022 season helping turn a good Eagles’ defense great.

With Payton and Denver after him and the 49ers DC position the best suddenly available job in all of football, well, Fangio would have been silly not to do his due diligence before signing with Miami. Atlanta interviewed him, too, and Philly wanted him to stay. Miami was in a competition for him -- making Thursday’s news all the sweeter for McDaniel and crew.

Fangio was a grand prize. Miami had to fight to win it.

Money is never not important, but, at age 64, Fangio likely had to be convinced Miami is closer to a championship than San Fran (a tough sell) or Denver. And that Miami has better players on defense to work with in the likes of Christian Wilkins, Javon Holland, Xavien Howard and Bradley Chubb.

It is plain why this defensive coach was so sought-after.

In addition to having a name straight out of central casting in any reboot of The Sopranos, Vic Fangio is the best you can get right now at planning and devising and coaching players to stop the other team. Ask fans in San Francisco and Chicago, where in an eight-year run in 2011-18 his defenses finished five times among the league’s top five.

The Dolphins’ defense was a letdown this season, inconsistent, bad on the road, 27th (of 32) against the pass. With a healthy Tua Tagovailoa targeting Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle the offense is not McDaniel’s concern. Now, closing the deal with Fangio, if he can fix the defense as his resume’ suggests he will, the AFC East at the very least is in play for Miami.

For the Dolphins, Fangio was worth opening the wallet wide to get.

He was worth fighting for.

And he was worth the wait.