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Dolphins' Mike McDaniel on parting with DC Vic Fangio: 'I'd be lying if I said I was expecting that'

Some things aren't meant to last.

When the Dolphins scored Vic Fangio as their new defensive coordinator ahead of the 2023 season, the belief was that the longtime coach would deliver a defense on par with Miami's high-octane offense.

A unit beset by injuries instead finished 22nd in points allowed, after which Fangio and the Fins mutually agreed to a separation neither party initially saw coming.

"In regard to the defensive coordinator transition this offseason, I'd be lying if I said I was expecting that during the season at all," head coach Mike McDaniel said on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, per the team transcript. "I think Vic would feel similarly. What happened was basically, I think it's important when the season ends for you to remove emotion and evaluate and have very, very good conversations with all people that you're depending on. With Vic and I, we had extensive conversations that were very healthy.

"Ultimately, when push came to shove, it seemed like we both had the opportunity and it'd be best for both parties involved to literally, mutually part. So it wasn't anticipated. It was something that I think was a factor of great communication between him and I, where we feel like we're all best served if we go a different direction, which is something that we had mutual belief. I'm excited for both parties moving forward."

It might have been difficult to predict in-season.

Fangio has been so good for so long, with eight top-10 scoring defenses across his last 11 years (with three different teams) as a coordinator or head coach before joining the Dolphins. Plus, even while giving up points, his group of walking wounded still ranked 10th in yards allowed.

But once dominos started falling after the season, a departure lined up quickly.

The Philadelphia Eagles fired defensive coordinator Sean Desai on Jan. 21. Miami mutually parted ways with Fangio three days after that. Less than 24 hours later, he took the DC job in Philly, returning to the team he advised for two weeks in the lead-up to Super Bowl LVII.

That will be Fangio's next opportunity. Meanwhile, McDaniel plucked Antony Weaver away from the Baltimore Ravens to be his third DC in as many years coaching Miami.

And unlike what transpired with the leader of last year's D, McDaniel is confident in the opportunity to make sure his offensive leader, Tua Tagovailoa, won't be making an unexpected departure any time soon.

"Both Tua's representation and our organization are hard at work," McDaniel said about negotiating an extension. "Those timelines are impossible to predict and my main concern this offseason has been communicating what Tua needs from his head coach and his offensive coaching staff, which is what things can we identify to continue the progression of your game the same way that we have since day one? My belief has always been strong from Day 1 in Tua. It's stronger than it was the first day I met him."

Tagovailoa, heading into 2024 on his fifth-year rookie option, just played a full season's worth of games for the first time in his career. He capitalized on his good health by showing what he's capable of, throwing for a league-high 4,624 yards with 29 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 69.3 completion percentage while guiding the Dolphins to a second-place finish in scoring -- the team's best ranking since 1986.

Perhaps most importantly, Tagovailoa experienced the "reps" McDaniel knows he needs. He threw 160 more passes than he ever had before, and even though he lost in the wild-card round, took his first taste of playoff action.

"These are things that weren't necessarily assumed he was capable of doing, but like most things Tua has done in his career, he's recognized that and proved doubters wrong," McDaniel said regarding Tagovailoa's development last year, from displaying durability to making his first Pro Bowl.

The head coach's faith in his franchise QB remains strong, apparently growing all the time.

Once a deal gets done, Tagovailoa will try to keep replicating the success he found in 2023. With any luck, Miami's defense can keep up despite a change at coordinator once again.

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