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Tim Gayle, USA TODAY Sports

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Foes in SEC title game Saturday also share long friendships
  • UGa offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, 'Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart played at Georgia
  • Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham coached with Alabama head coach Nick Saban

ATHENS, Ga. - As far back as he can search in his mind, Mike Bobo and Kirby Smart have been friends. Their early days found them on opposing sidelines, years before they were teammates at Georgia in the late 1990s.

Saturday, they'll be on opposing sidelines again, with Bobo serving as offensive coordinator of third-ranked Georgia and Smart as defensive coordinator of second-ranked Alabama, opponents in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game (CBS, 4 p.m. ET).

"We've tended to compete at everything we've ever done, from cards to golf to who can get to the store the fastest," Bobo said. "It never ends pretty.

"But he ain't on the field and I ain't on the field. We've got to go out there and help put our players in the best position to win and execute and hopefully that's what we'll do on Saturday."

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The relationship between Smart and Bobo is just one of several intriguing twists between the coaching staffs, but obviously the one that will get the most publicity because of their close relationship over the years. Alabama coach Nick Saban forbids his assistants from talking to the media - "I'm jealous," Bobo jokes - so the older of the two stars from the 1997 Bulldogs squad has to tell the story.

"I first met him when our dads played each other when I was at Thomasville and he was at Bainbridge," Bobo said. "His dad was a head coach and I can't remember whether my dad was the head coach or an assistant at the time, but we were the ball boys. Coaches know each other and have functions together and we'd tag along and got to know each other that way."

That started a relationship that only became more pronounced - and more competitive - once their college careers were over.

Bobo was named an administrative assistant for the Bulldogs in 1998. A year later, he moved to a graduate assistant's job and Smart took his position.

In 2000, Bobo took his first real coaching job at FCS Jacksonville State in Alabama, the same year Smart started his career in earnest at Division II Valdosta (Ga.) State.

By 2007, Bobo moved up to a coordinator's position at Georgia, the same year Smart followed Saban to Alabama. Two years later, Smart was the defensive coordinator on a national championship team and was honored with the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant, an award Bobo is a finalist for this year.

"They were just like two peas in a pod," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who had the pair on his staff together in 2005. "They are good friends and they're going head to head, basically. It's our offense vs. their defense, so there's a lot of pride there. They're both highly competitive guys."

Don't expect any friendly banter this week, however.

"We don't talk much during the season," Bobo said. "It might be a text message after each game, 'congrats' or 'keep your head up,' but during the season there's not much communication.

"We had a big get-together at Kirby's house this summer with a bunch of guys that played, and it was more hanging out with the kids and having a good time. There wasn't any football."

There are two other intriguing relationships between the teams, with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham crediting Saban for his success in coaching and Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend, a former Tide player, and his relationship with several members of the Alabama staff.

Grantham, a 1989 graduate of Virginia Tech, got his coaching start at his alma mater under Frank Beamer, but his career took off in 1996 when he joined Michigan State's staff under Saban. He served for three years as the defensive line coach and was elevated to coordinator in 1999 just as he accepted a job in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.

"He allowed me to launch my career and have the success that I've had," Grantham said. "As far as preparation, a lot of the things we do philosophically is from my time with him. Systematically, our roots are very similar. There's a lot of similar characteristics - attention to detail on all the situations that would come up, two-minute, end of the game, two-minute before the half, red zone, short yardage, just being able to be sound situationally."

Grantham was an assistant with the Spartans along with current Alabama tight ends and special teams coach Bobby Williams, who was running backs coach at Michigan State.

Friend was a four-year starter at guard at Alabama under Gene Stallings (1994-96) and Mike DuBose (1997). He was a teammate of several members of the current Tide staff, including secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt, student assistant Chris Samuels and offensive analyst Kelvin Sigler.

"The University of Alabama was good to me," Friend said. "In coaching, I've been fortunate to be two places as a player and graduate assistant - how good the University of Alabama was to me and then how good the University of Georgia has been to me. I've been fortunate. But that doesn't have anything to do with this game."

Friend played in a pair of SEC title games and sat out a third in 1996 with a knee injury.

"I can't believe y'all are asking about a bad player 20 years ago," he joked. "You've got all these good players playing in the game, and you're asking about a bad one from 20 years ago."

The relationships between the coaches provide an interesting twist, but those friendships will be put aside for three hours Saturday.

"I know Coach Grantham wants this game bad, Coach Saban too," said Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. "I know Coach Grantham will be pumped up. It's going to be an exciting game on a national stage. I mean, everybody's going to be going crazy."

Tim Gayle also writes for The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

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