ATLANTA – The coaching staffs at Alabama and Georgia, which play Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, are so intertwined that sorting them out is like trying to untangle all those twisted cable cords behind your television.
It starts with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, of course, who was a longtime defensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama.
Then there’s Mel Tucker, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, who spent the 2015 season coaching defensive backs at Alabama. Glenn Schumann, inside linebackers coach for the Bulldogs, spent 2008-15 at UA in a variety of roles, including as a graduate assistant and director of player development. Kevin Sherrer, who has a coaching background in the high school ranks in Alabama (and who got his start as an assistant at Tuscaloosa County High), was director of player development under Saban from 2010-12, and got his start in college coaching as a graduate assistant at UA in the 1990s.
There’s also Marshall Malchow, Georgia’s director of player personnel, who was a recruiting specialist at Alabama for three seasons, and Sidney Smith, director of football performance nutrition for the Bulldogs, who worked under Alabama nutritionist Amy Bragg and graduated from UA.
It goes both ways. Jeremy Pruitt was Georgia’s defensive coordinator for two seasons before Smart took over the program, and moved to Alabama to replace Smart in running UA’s defense two seasons ago.
But wait, there’s more: Pruitt has been hired as Tennessee’s head coach, and will move into that position on a full-time basis as soon as the national championship game ends. And Sherrer is joining him as co-defensive coordinator.
Smart has built Georgia in Alabama’s image.
“It’s a similar platform,” Tucker said, “but obviously Kirby has his own ideas of how he wants things done. We’ve taken some things from there because it works, but we definitely have a unique program.”
Saban’s influence has spread across the SEC: Georgia and now Tennessee have hired candidates who were defensive coordinators at Alabama. South Carolina’s Will Muschamp is another former defensive coordinator under Saban and new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was an offensive coordinator under Saban, both before his Alabama days.
“When you’ve had the success that this coaching tree’s had … and all the coaches who have branched out from it, it kind of makes sense because they’ve all been successful in their own way,” Sherrer said.
As a guy who has seen both programs from the inside, Sherrer says Georgia is very Alabama-like in its foundation but different in presentation.
“The structure, the schedule, the preparation is very similar,” he said. “The information and the motivating factors are a little different. Coach Smart’s more about visual and video and motivational videos, where Coach Saban (does that) more verbally – he’s maybe more the old-school way and Coach Smart is younger and so he uses multimedia and things like that.”
Each side has familiarity with the other: Smart knows Alabama players from his time at UA, and Pruitt was a key recruiter at Georgia who brought in many defenders who will start start for the Bulldogs in the title game.
“I think it is some advantage to know the other team’s players to some degree,” Saban said. “They probably know ours as well as anybody.”
It cuts both ways.
“I would say there’s probably some advantage both ways, but at the same time you possibly could have too much information,” Pruitt said. “You kind of date back to all the years we’ve all coached or played against each other and there’s been a lot of times we’re on the same team and sharing ideas, you know how each other think.
“At the end of the day, none of us are going to be playing. It will be the players, and we’ll all try to put our guys in position to have success.”
Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran has been around for all of the comings and goings on the UA coaching staff. He sees a common thread.
“Coach Saban has the process, the plan, and for someone to take it and put it somewhere else and have success shows how great this process is,” he said.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.