INDIANAPOLIS — Back in 2001, two up-and-coming coaches were hired to guide the secondary of the the recently-reformed Cleveland Browns.
Those two men, Chuck Pagano and Todd Bowles, would end up spending four seasons together, and each left a lasting impact on one another as they would eventually begin rising through the NFL coaching ranks.
On Monday, the two meet up once again, for a second time as head coaches, as Pagano's Indianapolis Colts take on Bowles' New York Jets in a Monday Night Football matchup at MetLife Stadium.
"He's a great friend, he's a great person, he's a great football coach," Pagano said this week of Bowles. "And we both got jobs to take care of, you know, on Monday night — he's going after the same thing that we're going after, and I know that he'll have his team prepared and ready to go."
In 2001, the Browns — which returned to the NFL in 1999 — hired University of Miami head coach Butch Davis as its head coach, and Davis would end up constructing a staff full of future coaching stars, including Bruce Arians (offensive coordinator), Keith Butler (linebackers), Pagano and Bowles (secondary), Terry Robiskie (wide receivers), Jerry Rosburg (special teams) and Carl Smith (quarterbacks).
For Pagano, it was his first NFL coaching opportunity after he excelled under Davis as his defensive backs and special teams coach with the Hurricanes from 1995 to 2000, and had to that point risen through the college ranks at Southern California and Miami (1984-86; grad assistant), Boise State (1987-88; linebackers coach), East Carolina (1989 and 1992-94; defensive backs and linebackers coach) and UNLV (1990-91; defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator).
For Bowles, the chance to coach with the Browns in 2001 was just his second professional coaching opportunity after he had been the secondary coach with the New York Jets the season before. Bowles — who played under Arians at Temple — had also played eight seasons in the NFL as a defensive back with the Washington Redskins (1986-1990 and 1992-93) and the San Francisco 49ers (1991).
Although Bowles came into his first interaction with Pagano with much more in the way of NFL experience, he told Indy reporters this week that it didn't take long for Pagano's approach to the game to rub off on him.
"More or less consistency. Keep your head down and keep working," Bowles said when asked what he learned from Pagano during their years in Cleveland. "Chuck is very consistent and he always keeps his head down – win, lose or draw he keeps working. You know what kind of guy you're going to get every day."
Both Pagano and Bowles would turn their experience with the Browns into bigger and better coaching opportunities.
After a two-season stint as the defensive backs coach with the Oakland Raiders — as well as serving one year as the defensive coordinator back in college at North Carolina — Pagano was hired by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 as their secondary coach, and after three very successful seasons, was named the team's defensive coordinator in 2011. The next season, he was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, where he has built a 46-29 record, and led the team to the AFC Championship game in 2014.
Bowles, meanwhile, has since held positions with the Dallas Cowboys (2005-07; secondary coach), Miami Dolphins (2008-2011; assistant head coach and secondary coach) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2012; secondary coach and interim defensive coordinator) before catching a big break as the defensive coordinator with Arians' Arizona Cardinals during the 2013-14 seasons.
The next year, he was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets.
Monday's matchup won't be the first between Pagano and Bowles as head coaches. Last season, the Jets defeated the Colts, 20-7, during an early-season battle at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Bowles' defense forced five Colts turnovers.
"He's a great football coach and a great defensive mind," Pagano said. "And he knows the game inside and out: offense, defense, special teams."
This year's matchup is no different, as Bowles' Jets come into the game with one of the league's top defensive attacks, including the fourth-best rushing defense in the NFL.
"It is an outstanding defense; it is going to be a heck of a challenge for us," Pagano said. "They are aggressive and they do pressure so you have to be able to make plays when you get those opportunities. It is a kind of game where they are going to make some plays and hopefully we will be able to make some and hopefully at the end of the day for us we will be able to make more."