Vic Fangio reunited with 'special' Brandon Staley when Broncos face Chargers

Chargers coach Brandon Staley has openly discussed how much Broncos coach Vic Fangio, above, meant to his development. Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On occasion, peers in the NFL will reach out to Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio in hopes his extensive list of contacts will provide another coaching gem.

"They'll ask me, 'Do you have any other Brandon Staleys?'" Fangio said.

Staley, a former Fangio assistant in his first season as Los Angeles Chargers coach, has drawn raves for his decidedly old-school approach to physical defense as well as a youthful outlook on analytics, player relations and a healthy dose of human perspective.

Fangio and Staley will face each other for the first time as head coaches Sunday in Empower Field at Mile High (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). And they will face each other from vastly different outlooks. The Broncos are 5-5, with wildly inconsistent moments packed around a signature win in Dallas three weeks ago. The Chargers, at 6-4 with a long-term solution at quarterback in the 23-year-old Justin Herbert, are currently in hot pursuit of the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West lead. And with Herbert at the core of what they do on and off the field, Staley is in the early stages of figuring out what his tenure will look like.

For many, Staley's lone season on the Broncos' staff (2019) -- he also worked under Fangio for two seasons with the Chicago Bears when Fangio was the team's defensive coordinator -- had the look of a head coach in waiting.

As linebacker Bradley Chubb said: "It was Christmas time [in '19] and his wife asked us just to sign a jersey for him. And I wrote on the jersey, 'Can't wait to see you become a head coach one day.' It was just the energy he brought to the meetings, how he approached it, just different things."

From a football perspective, the two defenses on the field Sunday should look similar. Week after week the game video is clear: Staley believes in much of what he learned from Fangio, from the importance of a do-it-all safety -- Derwin James for the Chargers and Justin Simmons for the Broncos -- to the variety of coverages, especially in the red zone, and the desire to make four-man pressure packages work when chasing opponents' quarterbacks.

"When I interviewed him in the winter of [2017] ... I knew he had the good ability to be a really good coach, for me to predict he would be a head coach four years later, I didn't predict that," Fangio said. "But I knew Brandon had special abilities as a coach, had a really good understanding of the game, on both sides of the ball, [I] was really happy to hire him."

Broncos linebacker Kenny Young, who was acquired Oct. 25 from the Los Angeles Rams, played for Staley last season when he was the Rams' defensive coordinator. And Young, who has started all three games for the Broncos since his arrival, said his time with Staley gave him a head start on the mind-bending four-day transition from his arrival on site at the Broncos' facility to playing against Washington on Halloween.

"I've gotten a chance to really get into [Fangio's] head a little bit while spending time with him over the past few weeks and seeing his overall philosophy of what he thinks about on defense," Young said. "I've always known he was a great coach because we had Staley, and basically, he was the father of what Staley brought to the Rams. It really was a lot of carryover, but [Fangio] is a very brilliant coach. He's very smart. He thinks out the box and I think one of the things I respect most about him is that he puts his players where they're best on matchups."

Staley has discussed how much Fangio meant to his development. Given the two reside in the same division, their brand of defense will have an impact on how a tight division race turns out.

The Chiefs, who have won four in a row after a 3-4 start, have clawed their way to first place (7-4), with the Chargers just behind and the Broncos and Raiders at 5-5. The Chargers are currently No. 5 in the league (209.9 passing yards allowed per game) while the Broncos are No. 9 (218.1 passing yards allowed per game).

"[It's] a quarterback-heavy division with the other three teams, obviously, good offenses, good defenses, you know, Kansas City is playing really good defense now, Chargers are, Raiders have stepped it up defensively," Fangio said. "I see complete teams that are led by really good quarterbacks."