Interesting how the TN-Florida matchup is suddenly garnering quite a bit of attention. I think for TN, though, while this game will always be a big one every year, they're still a year or two away from being where they need to be in terms of high-level SEC competition. If TN wins, they have arrived early.
This weekend’s Florida-Tennessee game in The Swamp figures to be the first of several showdowns between friends and former co-workers Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley.
The two ex-Nick Saban aides who worked together at LSU and then with the Miami Dolphins have both said they don’t talk as much now as they used to. Obviously. And when it comes to Saturday’s contest, both men seem to be coming from the same place…
Dooley: “He is going to want to whip me pretty good, and I’m going ot want to whip him pretty good. That’s how it goes.”
Muschamp: “You’d rather not (play against a friend). The bottom line on Saturday is that he’s going to do the best job he can for his team and I am for mine.
Today, Saban was asked about the Dooley/Muschamp matchup during the SEC’s weekly teleconference:
“Both guys are really, really, really good coaches, good teachers, good motivators, understand people well and certainly have a real good knowledge of football. And they’re well-organized guys. They’re systematic in their approach.
Derek was just a young guy who had just coached for a year or two at SMU (when Saban hired him at LSU). I was looking for kind of ayoung guy to be the special teams/recruiting coordinator/tight end coach. He was just very impressive as a person and never really disappointed. Very organized.
Will, I met at a bowl game. We were playing in Atlanta the first year I was at LSU. I just talked to him a few minutes and said, ‘You know, that’s a guy I’d be interested in hiring someday.’ The next year we had an opening and hired him and he did as good a job as any assistant coach we’ve ever had.
They coached together for five or six or seven years. We’ve always had good relationships with the coaches on our staff. People get along well together. Derek got along well with everybody on the staff and certainly with Will. They both had Georgia ties. Will played there and Derek didn’t play there, but he grew up there. His dad was the coach there for a long time. They had a good relationship.”
Both coaches are trying to rebuild their current programs, though Dooley’s job is considerably tougher than Muschamp’s. For all the talk of these two teams needing to prove themselves on Saturday — and they do — Florida’s “struggles” consisted of one 8-5 season. Tennessee has had four seasons of six or more losses in the last six years.
If Dooley can get the best of Muschamp on Saturday, it could signal the beginning of a more competitive UF-UT rivalry. After all, the Gators have won six straight against the Vols. But if Muschamp is able to win on Saturday, it might not bode well for Tennessee. Based in the Sunshine State, Muschamp is going to have a year-in, year-out recruiting advantage against his old buddy.
That’s why Saturday’s game is more than just a friend versus friend battle. And it’s more than a “prove it” game for two programs trying to win over pollsters. Saturday’s game in The Swamp could be a trendsetter and a sign of things to come.