Battles of buddies

A lot of people might not know this, but Nick Saban coached with Bill Belichick's father almost a decade before he hooked up with the younger Belichick in Cleveland. And Steve Belichick, a former assistant at Navy, jokingly wondered after Saban was hired by the Dolphins why Saban couldn't have taken a job in the NFC West so his son wouldn't have to face him. Well, that's not what happened, and the first Saban-Belichick matchup is upon us. Not that it's a big deal to the two coaches.

"My personal feelings about Bill, regardless of what happens in this game and every other game that we play in the future is not going to affect the relationship that I have or the respect that I have for him," Saban said. "People that are friends compete all of the time. It doesn't mean that you have to become enemies. For that particular time we will compete against each other. After that, personally, I don't see it being an issue."

Saban was Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland for four seasons before he left to become head coach at Michigan State. Also on that Cleveland staff, ironically, was former Dolphins defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Bates, as well as current University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

"I've had the privilege to work with a lot of coaches through my career and none better than Nick," Belichick said. "I think there's no weak point in Nick as a coach. Everything he does is a strong point, from schemes to X's and O's to motivation of players, evaluation of personnel. He understands the big picture. He understands the little picture on if a guy moves his foot two inches in his stance, how that can help him play a certain block or play a technique better. He's a hard worker. He's thorough. He's well prepared. he totally understands teh entire game, from the nose guard to the free safety, from the center to the wide receiver, inside and out. I have tremendous respect for Nick.

"We haven't coached together in over 10 years. Yeah, we're friends. We've talked. And I don't think there's anybody who has any better knowledge of the game than he does that I know, but we haven't coached together in over 10 years. A lot of water has flowed over this dam since the last time we coached together. It isn't a situation like it would be if we were playing Cleveland this year, where Romeo (Crennel) was on the staff and now we're a new team. It's completely different from that."

Saban and Belichick have done a lot of talking -- mostly about football -- over the years, but Saban said the frequency and subject of those talks have changed since he took over as Dolphins head coach.

"[We have talked] a couple of times, but not a lot," Saban said. "We are not phone pals or anything. I think we both respect what we are both trying to get done and what we are trying to do, but it is not a personal thing. I don't have any different feeling about Bill than I ever had. I just don't talk to him as much and we don't talk about the same kind of things when we do talk."


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