TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Nick Saban will have a reunion of sorts from Kent State's 1972 Mid-American Conference championship team, since he couldn't make the first one.
The Alabama coach was a safety on that team 40 years ago, while Missouri's Gary Pinkel was the star tight end. They'll be opposing coaches for the first time Saturday in Columbia, Mo., instead of teammates and co-workers.
They share an alma mater, a mentor, Don James, and pretty impressive coaching track records. And James will be pulling only for a pristine game that shows the strong coaching he expects. Rooting for one ex-pupil would be too much like rooting against the other.
"It's like having two sons out there," James said.
Pinkel flew to Ohio for the real reunion before Kent State's Thursday night opener in August. Saban couldn't make it since that's when he hosts his weekly radio show and Alabama happened to have a big game against Michigan two days later in Texas.
Now, they're Southeastern Conference rivals since Missouri joined the league — much to the chagrin of James.
"I like them both and cheer for them both," said James, who might have to record this one to see Washington play. "I wish that Gary hadn't gone into the Southeastern Conference.
"He can recruit and he can coach, so he'll be all right."
Pinkel is getting a rough indoctrination to the league that Saban and the Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) have been presiding over with two national titles in the past three seasons and a shot at No. 3. The Tigers (3-3, 0-3) are still seeking their first SEC win.
The two coaches speak fondly of one another personally and professionally, but Pinkel said they didn't hang out during their college days.
Saban was a year ahead of Pinkel. They're the coaching hotshots from a team that also included Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert. They both worked as graduate assistants under James, who went on to win a share of a national title with Washington in 1991.
"When we both became GAs, it was pretty evident to me that he could be a really, really good coach," Saban recalls. "So it's no surprise to me that he has been an outstanding coach for a number of years. We were both fortunate to have been exposed to Don James as players and as young coaches. Gary spent more time with him than I did. It certainly helped our systematic approach to how we do every part of our program, whether it's personnel, academics, developing players, whatever that may be. It doesn't surprise me at all that he's turned out to be a fantastic coach."
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