Examining the relationship between Muschamp, Saban
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS FOOTBALL
It’s been almost 20 years since Nick Saban and Will Muschamp first met, but both head coaches still remember the day to near perfection.
Saban, then with LSU, was in Atlanta preparing the Tigers for their Peach Bowl game on New Year’s Day in 2000 when he spotted the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State lingering on the sideline watching practice.
That’d be Will Muschamp, who made the roughly three-hour drive up to the Georgia Dome to watch the Tigers practice, and the two were formally introduced there and the rest is seemingly history.
“I was very impressed with Will,” Saban recalled. “He was a really bright, young coach with a good personality and very knowledgeable. Shortly after that, we had an opportunity to hire him and we did it. He did a fantastic job for us.”
Muschamp always likes to joke saying the ever-paranoid Saban probably thought he was a spy sent by their opponent—Georgia Tech—to get some extra ammo for the game.
Saban tells it differently, saying he knew of Muschamp before that with some of the LSU staffers already developed a relationship with them. The two were able to talk a little on that fateful day and when LSU needed a linebackers coach, Muschamp was the man.
The two formed a quick bond with Muschamp moving up to defensive coordinator starting in 2002 and was with Saban the next three years; two of those in Baton Rouge and another in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
“I was always impressed with Will’s, first of all, leadership and ability to communicate with players and build relationships with players,” Saban said. “He’s a good motivator and has some toughness about him. The personality of the team reflects the personality of what he did for us and our defense reflected that. All those things are really, really positive. His knowledge of the game was good and was a very bright guy. He’s turned out to be very successful as a coach.”
The two split after Saban’s tenure in Miami ended, with Saban taking the gig at Alabama where he’s been since nad Muschamp starting his ascension to head coaching with stints at Auburn, Texas, Florida and now South Carolina where he’ll face off against his old mentor Saturday.
It’s the third time they’ll face off as head coaches and the first since Muschamp took over in Columbia, and he’ll now take a program modeled almost exclusively after what Saban built at LSU and now in Tuscaloosa against Saban’s powerhouse.
Muschamp said a “vast majority” of what the Gamecocks do is based of the Saban model of success and Saturday’ he’ll try to take down the No. 2 team in the country.
A lot’s been made obviously about the two’s relationship, but Muschamp will be quick to point out it’s been almost 15 years since they were employed by the same place and once things kick off, it quickly becomes about the players.
"I don't think it has a whole lot of bearing on the game,” Muschamp said about their relationship. “It's about the players that line up between the white lines when the game kicks off. It's 11 from Alabama, and there are 11 from South Carolina. Those guys will determine the outcome of the game. Obviously, we have to do a great job of preparing our team, but the familiarity thing on each side is a little blown out of proportion as far as those things are concerned. You can overthink this thing too. I haven't worked for Nick since 2005. That's a long time ago."
History isn’t on Muschamp’s side entering Saturday. Saban’s coached against former assistants 16 times over his career and hasn’t lost yet, including two wins over Muschamp-coached Florida teams.
It’s something he knows, and his team knows, but it’s not a focal point this week before Saturday.
“I read that one time on Twitter. He didn’t tell us that,” Ernest Jones said. “I won’t bring it up.”