49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wouldn’t share his opinion about safety Donte Whitner’s decision to change his last name to Hitner on Thursday, but his general comments about penalties for illegal hits put him firmly in the camp of those who think that too many flags are flying around the league.
Fangio said that he thought Hitner’s hit against Rams wide receiver Chris Givens from last week was a “good play” despite the fact that the safety was penalized during the game and fined $21,000 by the NFL. Fangio explained that he thought officials flagged the play because of the way Givens’ head snapped upon contact, leading to a flag thrown because officials are erring on the safe side by penalizing any hit that looks like it may be illegal.
“They need to err on the correct side, not on the safe side,” Fangio said, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Because if it is an illegal hit, the guy will get fined on Monday or Tuesday. If you miss it as an official, that doesn’t mean that it’s over and done with. … The part that’s hard about it all is the league has instructed officials to err on the side of caution, so they’re going to throw the flag no matter what.”
The opposite isn’t true, of course. There’s no way to walk back a flag that’s thrown in error, something that happened to the 49ers when Hitner was penalized in Week Three for using the crown of his helmet before the league deemed it a legal hit. It’s also not as simple as the fine making up for the call since officials are going to be downgraded for missing calls on the field under the current system.
Fangio would suggest they change that aspect of the system and he had another suggestion for the league office if they wanted to cut down on receivers finding themselves in peril.
“I’ve always said when they’re fining these people for these hits they should be fining the quarterback for throwing these guys into those big hits,” Fangio said.
An unlikely development, to be sure, but so was the appearance of a man named Hitner in the 49ers secondary.