Jason Tarver recalls meeting with 49ers general manager Bill Walsh, coach Steve Mariucci and front office executive Bill McPherson in 2001, hoping to get a job as a low-level assistant coach.
His resume included a master's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and an award bestowed by the UCLA chemistry department for distinguished teaching in biochemistry.
All which of made Walsh wonder why Tarver was sitting at the table.
"The first thing he asked me was, 'Why don't you go out and invent something?'" Tarver said.
A dozen years later, Tarver, in his second season as defensive coordinator, has helped reinvent the way the Raiders play defense.
Quarterbacks Philip Rivers of San Diego and Alex Smith of Kansas City came out of games against the Raiders talking about the confusing array of blitzes and alignments thrown their way.
Long a four-man rush team with press coverage influenced by the late Al Davis, the Raiders under Tarver and coach Dennis Allen are mixing coverages, blitzing often and seldom showing the same thing twice.
There are 10 new starters, none of whom were big-ticket items in the offseason but have the shared trait of being enthusiastic workers who believe in team defense.
Of the 16 sacks generated by the Raiders, Lamarr Houston has the most at three and the remaining 13 are divided among 11 players.
Opponents are averaging 22 points per game and 99.0 yards per game rushing, with only the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning putting up the kind of points (37) and yardage (536) the Raiders have given up far too often in the last 10 years.
The Raiders are faster, are better tacklers and playing smarter than at any time in recent memory, and Allen credits Tarver with allowing his unit to play as fast as possible.
"He's really smart, and he's able to take something that might seem complicated and make it as simple as he can for the players," Allen said.
Free safety Charles Woodson, aware of Tarver's advanced education, has a mental picture in his mind of his coach in the role of a scientist.
"A lab coat, glasses, pens in his pocket," Woodson said. "I can see the whole thing."
Tarver, 39, who chose coaching over medical school, doesn't see his career path as unusual. Chemistry, like coaching, is about applying rules and logic to solve problems.
"You don't know how that weird-shaped brown ball and 22 pieces are going to move," Tarver said. "It's the ultimate puzzle — a human puzzle."
In truth, for as good as Tarver was in his studies at Pleasanton's Foothill High, the University of Santa Clara and graduate school at UCLA, his passion was always football.
A safety at Foothill for coach Matt Sweeney, Tarver immediately took to scouting and preparation, which made up for what he lacked in pure athletic ability.
"He was just so off-the-charts smart," Sweeney said. "He was a 17-year-old that really could have been hanging out with 40-year-olds. Sometimes you win because of a certain number of guys who are behind the scenes acting like a coach with his classmates. That was Jason."
As a senior, Tarver blew out his anterior cruciate ligament, and according to Sweeney, "played his whole senior year without an ACL. He just put on a brace and lived with it."