NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. —Will Muschamp hasn't spoken with his coaching mentor in months.
As the defensive coordinator and head coach designate for the Texas Longhorns, Muschamp is plenty busy; but he still likes to keep up with the guy who taught him so much. Problem is, the other coach is busy, too. And he's old school — doesn't text or e-mail or anything like that. So it's understandable that months have passed without any contact.
Finally, on Thursday night, a few hours before the BCS championship game, they'll have a brief reunion on the field of the Rose Bowl, sharing a hug and spending a few minutes catching up on things.
Then Muschamp will go to the Texas sideline, Alabama coach Nick Saban will go to his sideline, and they'll spend the next few hours trying to outsmart each other.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for the opportunities that Nick gave me," Muschamp said. "I've got the utmost respect for him."
Muschamp was 29 and coming off his first season as the defensive coordinator at Division II Valdosta State when Saban hired him at LSU. A year later, Muschamp became the defensive coordinator, and the year after that the Tigers won the national championship. Then Saban went to the Miami Dolphins and Muschamp followed as his defensive coordinator, even though some of the players were older than him.
One year later, Muschamp went back to college, leading the Auburn defense. Saban ended up at rival Alabama and they went head-to-head for the first and only time in 2007.
Longhorns fans, take note. The scorecard in their personal rivalry reads Muschamp 1, Saban 0.
"I know Will is looking forward to it," said Cowboys linebacker Bradie James, who played for LSU during the Saban-Muschamp years and remains close with both coaches. "I know Will definitely wants to beat him. They definitely have a friendly type of rivalry. It'll be good."
Considering Muschamp is somewhat of a Saban clone, it's no surprise that Texas and Alabama run similar schemes — and have similar results.
The No. 2 Longhorns have the stingiest run defense in the country, allow the third-fewest yards and the eighth-fewest points. The No. 1 Crimson Tide are top seven in every major defensive category.
"I think philosophically and schematically we believe a lot of the same things," Muschamp said. "We believe the same way to coach and motivate, so I think that's probably why we got along."
Saban's influence on Muschamp was evident the second he began talking about this game. Before the first question was even asked, Muschamp muttered, "I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of wasted ink over this situation."
Then he launched into the story behind their teacher-student relationship.
In late December 2000, LSU was in Atlanta getting ready for the Peach Bowl and Muschamp was in Atlanta visiting relatives. He decided to also visit some of his friends on the LSU staff and showed up to a walkthrough practice on Christmas, and met Saban for the first time.
"We were just talking about my experience, where I've been and what I was doing and just kind of hit it off," Muschamp said.
A few weeks later, LSU needed a linebackers coach. Saban wanted someone young, from the South and with ties to the staff. Muschamp's buddies said something along the lines of, "Remember our pal you met at the Peach Bowl?"
"So they brought me in for an interview," Muschamp said. "That night he offered me the job."
Muschamp made a pretty quick impression on the folks at Texas, too.
He arrived in 2008 and before his first season was done, his salary was spiked from $425,000 to $900,000 and he was deemed the eventual successor to coach Mack Brown.
While Muschamp is proud to be part of Saban's coaching tree, he's also his own man.
For instance, can you picture Saban flying in the air to chest-bump a player? Muschamp does it all the time. He set a tone in his first game at Texas by angrily ripping off his headset so violently he gashed his left cheek, sending blood rolling onto his chin; it stayed there as he was more concerned with fixing the mistake than cleaning his face.
One of his guiding principles is that he wants his players to be a reflection of him, and that means being intense during games.
"I'd never seen a coach head butt a guy in the middle of his chest before a game," defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. "We got used to it, and it's how we play. It's rubbed off on us a lot this year."
Muschamp is a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde type of coach, someone who can be wild on the field and caring as can be off it. The bond he builds with each player is why they want to become reflections of him.
"He can be your friend, your brother, like a second parent if you want him to be," pass rusher Sergio Kindle said. "You can call any time of day, any time at night, he'll get up and answer it and talk to you. That's the kind of thing you need in a coach, not just give you the Xs and Os, but you know, life lessons."