One was in charge of what journalists derisively labeled "The Good Ship Lollipop." That was Pete Carroll with the New York Jets.
The other was knocked for conservative play-calling that lost a championship game. That was John Fox with the Carolina Panthers.
Yet here they are, all persistence and survival, hair gray, success undeniable, two men who began their circuitous journey in California, now coaching against each other in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Their tales are comparable, if not exact, going through the drill, going from stop to stop, going forward with the idea they could build a better defense if not the proverbial better mousetrap, and hoping someday that great quarterback would be alongside.
Which is what happened for Fox, the Denver Broncos coach who will be 59 in early February, and Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks coach who is 62. Are there any quarterbacks at the moment greater than Peyton Manning? Meanwhile, Russell Wilson is doing more than enough for the Seahawks.
"We go way back," said Fox, alluding to Carroll, "even to college. I've known Pete for probably about 30 years."
Although they never played or coached on the same team at the same time, Fox, in 1984 as secondary coach, did follow Carroll to Iowa State. Pete was there in 1978.
Through the seasons, they also each worked in New York, Carroll as the defensive coordinator from 1990-93 and then ill-fated head coach of the Jets in 1994 -- when the "Lollipop" designation arose -- Fox as defensive coordinator for the Giants, 1997-2001.
Fox, son of a Navy SEAL, was born in a city on one ocean, Virginia Beach, Va., and as a teen came to a city on another ocean, San Diego. Carroll, whose father was a liquor salesman, was born in San Francisco and moved across the Golden Gate to Marin County, Calif.
As young men, each had more determination than heft. Carroll, who played Pop Warner in the Bay Area with Dan Fouts, went from College of Marin (a junior college) to the University of the Pacific, where as an undersized defensive back he left an impression and left opponents reeling.
"You think he's happy-go-lucky?" Walt Harris, a onetime teammate told David Wharton and Gary Klein, authors of the book, "Conquest." "Well, he would knock you out. He would hurt you and love it."
Fox, also a defensive back, played at Southwestern (a junior college) in Chula Vista, Calif., then made it at San Diego State as a walk-on,"
"We were so fortunate to get John," retired San Diego State coach Claude Gilbert told the UT-San Diego newspaper. "Nobody recruited him ... we didn't. But Bob Mears, who coached there then, said I should take a look at him. John walked on and became an immediate starter for us in the spring.
"We could see he had potential as a coach. He took all the steps, but my goodness, he turned out to be a good one."
A very good one who will be on the sideline as a coach in a Super Bowl for a third time, the first in Super Bowl XXXV as a Giants assistant, then in Super Bowl XXXVIII as head coach of the Panthers.
He has the experience, but like Carroll, he has no Super Bowl victories. Carroll will be coaching in his first Super Bowl this week.
Asked if learned anything from Carolina's championship-game loss to the New England Patriots in February 2004, Fox responded, "Yeah. That it's no fun to lose."
So many connections, so many circumstances. At Carolina, Fox replaced George Seifert, under whom Carroll was a defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 and 1996.
When Carroll took the head-coaching position with New England in 1997, leaving his post as coordinator with the 49ers to John Marshall, who was replaced by Jim L. Mora. Eventually, Mora became head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and then he served as head coach of the Seahawks in 2009.
Mora was fired after that one year and replaced by ... yes, Pete Carroll, who gained acclaim by leading USC out of the gloom to a national championship.
And when Carroll left USC for Seattle before the 2010 season, the new Trojans coach was Lane Kiffin, whom Carroll's wife, Glena, babysat when Carroll and Kiffin's dad, Monte, were assistants at Arkansas in 1977.
Mora, of course, is now in charge at UCLA, USC's rival. Did someone say it's a small world?
What Fox said, when asked if has better players with Denver than he had with Carolina 11 years ago, was, "That was a great team, Carolina. I've enjoyed all my teams, and I think you get better (as a coach). You should, whether it's your job or my job."
Fox certainly understands where he and Carroll are, still at work this week while 30 other coaches are finished for a while.
"I think we're blessed," Fox said. "It's a tough profession."