When the Chargers and Broncos take the field, both head coaches will have a special embrace. The Broncos head coach is one of the more decorated defensive minds in the game, who took a chance on the Chargers current head coach. So Sunday, master and apprentice battle for the first time.
After the 2016 season, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was looking for a coach to lead his outside linebackers unit. It was featured by Sam Acho on one side, and former first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd on the other.
When some of his staff members asked him what he wanted, Fangio responded, "A younger guy." That is when the name Brandon Staley came across his desk. Staley was a defensive coordinator at John Carroll at the time.
He looked into who Staley was and asked him to come in for an interview.
Staley knew exactly who Fangio was because he was a student of the game. He remembered how Fangio took Stanford's defense in 2010 and turned it from a 90s ranked defense to a top-20.
In 2011, Fangio joined Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers staff as the defensive coordinator. Staley remembered all of the playmakers on that squad and how Fangio turned them into a lethal defense.
"I studied all of their film," Staley said. "Just like in Good Will Hunting — the Harvard education for $1.50 in late charges at the public library. I just took that approach. I was going to study everything."
After breaking down all of the film, Staley decided to implement parts of Fangio's defense into his at John Carroll.
He came into the interview with a film showing how he had implemented his scheme in a division three school.
"During the interview, he didn't say anything to me," Staley recalled. "It was a really tough deal because I'm not getting any feedback on what's going down in this interview. Silence. Nothing."
Fangio didn't give him any indication of how the interview was going or anything. They decided to take a break.
"They ask me, and I tell them, 'I have no idea what's going on with this guy.' They're like, 'That's a good thing,'" Staley said. "We got to the end, the very end, and then I realized that it was going to go down. He made me earn it. That's why he is special."
On a conference call on Wednesday, Fangio was asked if he thought when he hired him that Staley would ascend so quickly.
"I don't think we can ever predict the future and how quick things are going to fall for someone. But I always thought he was a guy that was capable of becoming a head coach in the NFL. And obviously, he's done well with it up to this point," Fangio said.
Staley mentioned how seriously he took his first opportunity in the NFL. He pointed out that he was coaching the same position that Fangio was an expert of for years.
He would work with Fangio for two seasons in Chicago. He got the opportunity to work with Khalil Mack in 2018 when the Bears made a big trade with the Raiders for the pass rusher.
Denver hired Fangio as a head coach after years of his defenses producing at a high level in the NFL. He took Staley with him to coach up Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
After one season, Staley was hired to be the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, and quickly people started finding out who Sean McVay's new defensive coordinator is.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without him because I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity with (Rams coach) Sean (McVay) if it weren't for Vic," Staley said.
It was short-lived. After one season, Staley started being interviewed for being a potential head coach in the NFL. He really impressed Dean Spanos and his staff, especially because they offered him the job.
"I'm happy for him personally, number one, that he got to start with us it's just icing on the cake," Fangio explained. "Brandon's good people. We're friends, and I'm extremely happy for him. Any little parts of that I may have played in it, which is probably very little, I'm happy to help you to help him."
On Wednesday, Staley was asked if he was hiring his coaching staff with zero facial expressions, kind of the way Fangio was with him.
"Vic has kind of a flair for candor. That's one of his endearing qualities. I'm a little bit different that way. Maybe I'll become that, but I'm not that right now," Staley said. "I think the one thing about what I've learned in the interview process is being open-minded because I was a Division III college assistant sitting down with one of the best defensive coordinators over the last 30 years. The odds of that aren't good. Casting a wide net and having your eyes open, your ears open because you can find coaches in a lot of different places if you're looking in the right spots and you're willing to open your mind."
Staley has the Chargers sitting at 6-4 with a chance to regain the AFC West with a victory on Sunday while Fangio is coaching for his job after underperforming the last few seasons. He started this season 3-0 but since has lost five out of seven.
It will be a must watch matchup with so much on the line and the history that these two coaches share.
"He can watch our tape and probably call what we're in, and we probably watch his and do the same," Fangio said. "Now, we each may be majoring in different parts of it, based on what we need to do for our personnel and who we're playing."