TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The situation is hardly a new one for Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
As the patriarch of a football-coaching tree, plenty of his former assistants move on to coach for the opposition.
The Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game with Texas, however, will mean facing two of his ex-comrades. Both Longhorn coordinators — Major Applewhite of the offense and Will Muschamp of the defense — know Saban’s system from their time on the inside.
Texas head coach Mack Brown is aware.
“It helps in that we have a pretty good feel of at least their juniors and seniors,” Brown said. “And most of their players are juniors and seniors. And Major was there as an offensive coordinator, and he knows those kids. He knows how they’ll think. He knows how they’ll practice. Will and Major have said their bowl practices will be exactly like ours.”
The familiarity goes both ways, Saban said. It isn’t necessarily an edge that goes straight to the second-ranked Longhorns.
“We kind of know what they do too,” Saban said. “It will be an interesting thing if they need to change what they are doing. I think who you are is more important than what you do. I’ve always said that. Who we are as football team, in terms of what we do and how we execute is important, and I don’t really think there are a whole lot of changes to make. Are you going to trick yourself or trick them? We do what we do.”
Muschamp, even more than Applewhite, knows Saban’s tendencies. While Applewhite served just one season as offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007 before returning to Texas, Muschamp spent four years on Saban’s staff at LSU and one more with the Miami Dolphins.
In the two years between the NFL and Texas, Muschamp was the defensive coordinator at Auburn, where his path crossed Saban’s for the first time. The two are still friends. Although they haven’t spoken lately, offseason conversations are common.
Muschamp downplayed the significance of his coaching past, because he has been in similar predicaments without much of an advantage gained either way.
“It’s going to come down to the Texas team and the Alabama team and who makes those seven or eight plays in the game that will make the difference in the ballgame,” Muschamp said.
When Brown looked at the situation, he said Muschamp “was kind of raised by Nick,” so similarities in schemes are inevitable.
“And it’s really funny when you start looking at the defenses, they’re exactly the same,” Brown said. “The calls are the same. That’s the positive for us. The negative is that both staffs will be trying to outthink what the other one is going to do, because we know so much about each other. And you have to be careful not to outthink yourself and do what you do best.”