ATHENS, Ga. — The handshakes among Alabama and Georgia football coaches after Saturday's Southeastern Conference title game may be longer than most.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart were Bulldogs teammates in the mid-to-late 1990s, when Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend and Alabama secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt were teammates with the Crimson Tide. Throw in Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham working for Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban at Michigan State during that time as well, and this weekend could contain quite the competition followed by quite the embracing.
"Sometimes when you know the guys across the way a little bit better than normal, it can add to it," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "I mean, we all want to win and we all have competitive juices that flow. Everybody's going to want to do the very best they can."
Bobo and Smart have known each other since they were ball boys in south Georgia, when Bobo's father coached at Thomasville High and Smart's dad was at Bainbridge High. Bobo was a Georgia quarterback from 1994 to '97; Smart was a Bulldogs safety from 1995 to '98.
The two talk and text, but mostly about their families and never about recruiting.
"We've tended to compete in everything we've done, from cards to golf to who can get to the store the fastest," Bobo said. "It never ends pretty, not as far as who wins or loses but who talks the most. That's usually in golf, but he usually has the better partner."
Richt briefly reunited the two by hiring Smart as running backs coach in 2005.
"They were just like two peas in a pod," Richt said. "I don't know if they were trying to relive any of their glory days back in college, but they're just good ball coaches and good people."
Smart joined Saban's Miami Dolphins in 2006 and followed Saban to Alabama in '07. He was elevated to defensive coordinator in '08, won the Broyles Award in '09 as college football's top assistant coach and guided Alabama as it swept the four major defensive categories last season.
The Crimson Tide rank No. 1 in scoring defense and total defense again this year.
"Kirby has a great personality and a great competitive character about him to affect the players," Saban said. "The players love him and respond to him extremely well. He's a very hard worker and a bright guy. He's really done a phenomenal job for us.
"He's as fine of an assistant as I've ever had."
Bobo was named earlier this week among the five Broyles Award finalists.
When Bobo and Smart were Bulldogs teammates, they went through the transition from Ray Goff to Jim Donnan as head coach. Donnan hired Derek Dooley, who recently was fired as Tennessee's head coach, as a graduate assistant in 1996.
Pruitt and Friend played together under Gene Stallings during the 1995-96 seasons in Tuscaloosa, and Friend was a senior guard and Pruitt a graduate assistant in '97, when Mike DuBose took over. Pruitt started out at Middle Tennessee State before walking on at Alabama and playing as a backup safety.
Friend, who was a four-year starter and a two-time All-SEC selection, said he and Pruitt talked last Friday but were not going to talk this week.
"There are ties all over these staffs," Friend said, "but that has nothing to do with the game."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...