War Eagle Extra

Heated rivals? Auburn and Alabama coaches turn Iron Bowl week into love fest

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talks with players before facing Clemson Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talks with players before facing Clemson Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

There’s nothing like effusive praise to set the stage for a heated rivalry game.

Auburn and Alabama coaches didn’t create any provocative headlines going into the 81st Iron Bowl prefering a policy of mutual assured admiration.

It started with Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele praising his former boss Nick Saban.

“Coach’s record speaks for itself,” Steele said. “He’s a very focused man. He has a way of things and a way that he wants things done. He gets everybody on the same page with that process. They buy into it. They just march to it.”

Steele was Alabama’s defensive coordinator during Saban’s first two years at Alabama (2007-08).

The two reconnected when Steele returned to Tuscaloosa as the team’s director of player personnel in 2013.

Steele moved back to the field for 2014 to coach Alabama’s linebackers where he got an up-close look at the program’s newly hired offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

“I personally think he’s got a creative offensive mind,” Steele said. “He’s very quick and creative. He calls the game with no fear and as players do things he puts it in their hands to execute. He does a great job of that.”

Steele didn’t stop there.

“I think one of the best things he does is he utilizes his people,” Steele said. “I think that’s evident in the fact that in the last three year there’s been three different starting quarterbacks. The offense has looked different, but the production hasn’t.”

The love fest continued with coach Gus Malzahn singling out Alabama’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt for praise.

“He’s a good football coach,” Malzahn said. “He’s a former high school football coach and a lot of the time the high school coaches are a little bit different than the college coaches. He’s always done well with what he’s had.”

Auburn has faced a Pruitt-led defense in each of the last three seasons. Pruitt coached Florida State’s defense in the 2014 BCS National Title game and was at Georgia from 2014-15.

“Jeremy (Pruitt) has always done a great job wherever he’s been,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said.

Auburn coaches weren’t alone in their praise.

While Alabama doesn’t make its assistant coaches available to the media during the regular season, coach Saban opened his weekly press conference by praising what Auburn’s staff has done this season.

“Gus Malzahn has done a really good job there since he's been there, especially this year in how his team has developed and improved throughout the season,” Saban said. “They made adjustments thought the year relative to issues that they have had on their team, whether it be injuries or whatever, but they still managed to score a lot of points.”

Saban called Auburn “an outstanding team” with one of the best defenses Alabama has faced all year in no small part to the job Steele has done.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra