Will Muschamp v.s. Nick Saban is the stuff of ancient folklore.
Saturday, Muschamp, the student, faces off against the grandmaster Saban after spending five years under his tutelage, with LSU and the Miami Dolphins. The Week 4 matchup against Alabama is a chance for the student show the teacher what all he’s learned.
“Got a lot of respect for Nick,” Muschamp said. “I probably wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for the opportunities he gave me early in my career and he’s an outstanding football coach. He’s got a really good football team.”
Their working relationship began in 2001, when Saban brought Muschamp on as linebackers coach at LSU. That year the Tigers would finish 10-3, winning the SEC. The following season, Muschamp was named defensive coordinator; during his tenure from 2002-2004, the Tigers allowed an average of 15 points a game. 2003, Saban and Muschamp would hoist the crystal ball, as LSU won the national championship.
When Saban left college for the Miami Dolphins in 2005, Muschamp followed, joining the team as an assistant head coach for defense.
The Dolphins increased their win total by five from the previous year, finishing 9-7. The following year, Saban named Dom Capers defensive coordinator, causing Muschamp went back to the college ranks, Saban, who left the Dolphins for Alabama in 2007, has expressed in previous interviews regret in not making Muschamp Miami’s coordinator.
During his time under the current Alabama head coach, Muschamp said he learned about total program management. The Florida coach would talk with Saban about evaluation of players, as well as the importance of scouting.
“But just philosophically, having an idea of what you want to be on offense and defense and special teams as a program,” Muschamp said. “All of the things that I think are critical moving forward and where we’re at.”
Saban’s influence is seen in Muschamp’s teams. The defenses that are the backbone of the team, with a strong front seven an aggressive defensive backs. On offense, even with a new uptempo offense, the running game is primary.
The two have stayed in contact throughout the years. Saban even challenged Muschamp to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last month after the head coach told Saban he hadn’t been called upon.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Will,” Saban said at his weekly press conference Monday. “He did a great job for us when he worked for us and was one of the best assistant coaches that I’ve ever had, and knew that he would make a very, very good head coach. He’s a hard worker, a good recruiter and really does a good job of coaching players.”
Saturday’s contest at Bryan-Denny Stadium will be the showcase for multiple individual matchups between the Gators and Crimson Tide, but will also be a chance for the coaches to enact their strategic will upon one another. The apprentice has a chance to upstage his mentor with a win, giving the Gators a statement win in the process.
However, just like in the classic tales, the grandmaster might have taught the apprentice everything the apprentice knows, but not everything the grandmaster knows.