Now Kiffin is using that same blueprint.
"This is a very physical team, a team that comes at you downhill on both sides of the ball and hits you in the mouth," Tennessee's head man said. "I love the style of play and the way that they play. It's really a model for the direction that we're going."
Saban's blueprint isn't all that complicated, really. You sign great players, give them basic schemes, then drill them until they can execute assignments in their sleep.
That's essentially what Saban has done in his first three years at Tuscaloosa. And that's what Kiffin hopes to do in his first three years at Knoxville. So, if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Saban should feel quite flattered.
"First of all, he's recruited great players," Kiffin said. "Back -to-back No. 1 recruiting classes will help you a lot. No. 2, he has great discipline by the way he runs his program. You can see that by the way his players act. And you can see it by the style they play. They're usually not a heavily penalized team, yet they're very physical, very aggressive and they play smart.
"I think there's a lot of comparisons between what we're doing and what they did three years ago."
Bama isn't the only SEC team worth copying, of course. Florida has won two of the past three national titles. But Kiffin doesn't particularly care for the Gators' scheme, which relies more on finesse than power.
"Florida's a great program, very successful," Kiffin explained. "They just play a different style than we want to play. Alabama comes at you. They don't try to trick you. They're very physical on both sides of the ball. They play more like NFL teams do.
"Florida is completely different."
So, Tennessee fans might want to pay close attention to Bama's style of play Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. They may be seeing something awfully similar at Neyland Stadium in a couple of years.