SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers aren't facing any old opponent in Super Bowl XLVII. They are, in a sense, meeting their maker.
Baltimore unwittingly helped create the 49ers' powerhouse when it fired assistants Greg Roman and Vic Fangio late last decade, then Ravens coach John Harbaugh turned around and recommended them to his brother.
Jim Harbaugh, who was coaching Stanford at the time, heeded the advice and hired Roman and Fangio during a 53-week span that would help transform his career.
"Genius hires -- those guys changed things for him," said Rick Neuheisel, who coached with Roman and Fangio on the Ravens' staff and against them during his tenure at UCLA.
"Greg and Vic were terrific additions. It wasn't by accident that Jim's teams went to the top of the line."
In three seasons, the Harbaugh-Roman-Fangio partnership has produced a 39-8-1 record, with an Orange Bowl victory, two NFC West titles and a Super Bowl berth.
"I don't know that there's a magical answer," Fangio said. "We're three good coaches. We respect each other, and our jobs are clearly defined."
Roman and Fangio have known each other for decades. They served on coach Dom Capers' staffs in Carolina and Houston, then reunited in Baltimore in 2006 under coach Brian Billick.
Roman worked with the Ravens' offensive line while Fangio served as a special assistant to the head coach. During the week, he prepped the offensive staff for the opposing defense. On game day, he advised Billick on official challenges, timeouts and clock management.
"It doesn't take long being around Vic to realize he has an encyclopedic knowledge of defense," said Neuheisel, who tried to hire Fangio -- twice -- during his tenure at UCLA from 2008-11.
"His grasp of the details is as impressive as anyone I've been around."
The Ravens fired Billick after the 2007 season and hired John Harbaugh. Several defensive coaches were retained, including Fangio, but the offensive staff was let go. Roman took a job helping coach his alma mater, Holy Spirit High School, in Ventnor, N..J.
The following winter, Harbaugh called -- Jim Harbaugh. He needed someone to coach Stanford's offensive line or tight ends and knew Roman had experience with both units. Roman also came recommended by John Harbaugh, who held Roman in high esteem despite the Ravens' decision to let him go during the coaching change.
Roman coordinated Stanford's running game, which produced a 1,900-yard season from Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. Harbaugh, who is not easily impressed, named Roman the Cardinal's associate head coach/assistant head coach for offense.
"Greg has a great understanding of offense and defense; it's almost a chess match for him," said Stanford assistant Lance Anderson. "He thinks outside the box in terms of finding ways to gain a numerical advantage."
One year and two days after hiring Roman, Harbaugh reached out to another former Ravens assistant.
Fangio's influence in Baltimore waned after the coaching change. He was passed over for the defensive coordinator position when John Harbaugh promoted Greg Mattison, a respected coach and longtime Harbaugh family friend. Then, a year later, Fangio was fired.
As with Roman, the decision was more about office politics than coaching ability. (Fangio has never been one to mince words.)
And as with Roman, Jim Harbaugh jumped at the opportunity -- his pursuit of Fangio fueled by recommendations from Roman, Mattison and, yes, John Harbaugh.
In his first public comments about the Cardinal's new defensive coordinator, Jim Harbaugh pronounced Fangio a mastermind who would transform Stanford's defense.
Fangio worked wonders in his first and only season at Stanford. In two years with the 49ers, he has produced one of the NFL's top-rated defenses.
"He's very meticulous," Neuheisel said. "He knows every percentage for what you're going to do. He knows what the chances are and then plays the odds, and he's really good at managing risk."
If Fangio takes a mathematician's approach, Roman is the mad scientist forever concocting plays and formations to confound the opponent.
He introduced Jim Harbaugh to the wonders of the "jumbo" formation with extra offensive linemen.
He devised ways to get his bruising running backs (Gerhart and Frank Gore) isolated against smaller cornerbacks.
"He knows how to use his personnel well, and he's really good at anticipating what the defense will do," Anderson said.
Together, Roman and Fangio, are a perfect match for Harbaugh, a master motivator who's smart enough to know when to defer to his brilliant coordinators.
"He has a lot of respect for their football intellect," Neuheisel said. "I guarantee you that Jim trusts them implicitly."
Contact Jon Wilner at email@example.com or 408-920-5716.