They were stars on the Cleveland AAU youth basketball circuit in the early 1990s, arch rivals as 10-year-old hot-shot point guards.
Who could have imagined that three decades later, Jonathan Gannon and Brandon Staley would remain best friends and – on Sunday, when the Eagles face the Chargers at the Linc – arch rivals again.
Gannon, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, and Staley, the Chargers’ head coach, both grew up in Cleveland and quickly developed a rivalry playing in the same youth basketball league that produced LeBron James.
Staley’s team generally got the best of Gannon’s team until the two got older, when Gannon’s team began dominating. Eventually, both moved on from youth hoops. Gannon led St. Ignatius High in Cleveland to a state title, and Staley played at Perry High east of town.
Gannon and Staley were both big-time basketball players, but opted for football in college and remained close after high school. Because of his career-ending hip injury at Louisville Gannon got a head start on his coaching career.
And he was really responsible for Staley getting his start in college coaching.
In 2013, when John Carroll coach Tom Arth – who also went to St. Ignatius – needed an assistant coach, he contacted Gannon, who wasn’t interested but recommended Staley.
“We got into the coaching business at the same time,” Gannon said Wednesday. “So I knew him – as you are a young guy cutting your teeth in the business, you develop friendships.
“We never worked together, but, ‘Hey, this is what I've got going on,’ ‘This is what I've got going on,’ ‘Man, I wish we did it like you.’ ‘Man, but you guys don't do this.’ All the back and forth that anybody in any job or profession has.
“And so when Tom called me, I was in Tennessee at the time and didn't really want that job, I wanted to stay in the NFL. He said, ‘Well, who would you hire?’ I said Brandon Staley, just because I knew how passionate he was and the type of coach that (he was). Just talking to him and knowing him, the guy that he is, (I knew) he would do an excellent job for Tom. And that's all I told him.”
So Gannon is really responsible to a great extent for Staley getting started on a career that took him from John Carroll to the Bears to the Broncos to the Rams and now to the Chargers, where he’s 4-3 in his first year as a head coach.
“Sometimes, all you need is to know somebody to show somebody,” Gannon said. “So I got him in the door with Tom, and the rest was history. I don't take any credit for Tom hiring him because he did that all himself.
"But we're friends. We're good friends and we talk. I learned a lot of ball from him and hopefully he's learned some ball from me.”
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