University of Florida

Nick Saban coaching tree reaches Florida-Georgia rivalry game

Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, above, worked alongside close friend and Florida coach Jim McElwain for three years under Nick Saban at Alabama.
Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, above, worked alongside close friend and Florida coach Jim McElwain for three years under Nick Saban at Alabama. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jim McElwain has zero familiarity with the Florida-Georgia rivalry, but the Gators’ coach knows all about the Bulldogs — especially their coaches.

When the archrivals face off Saturday in Jacksonville (3:30 p.m., CBS), the sidelines will feature a who’s who of former Nick Saban assistants at Alabama.

McElwain, the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11, is close friends with Georgia’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who worked alongside McElwain at Alabama for three years.

The staff connections don’t stop there, either, so McElwain and his staff spent the bye week studying their own tendencies with so many longtime friends and colleagues roaming on Georgia’s sideline.

“They have guys on their staff that we know real well,” McElwain said.

“Jeremy Pruitt is not only a great, great coach but a good friend. [UGA linebackers coach] Kevin Sherrer is on that staff. He was with us as well at Alabama. Their strength coach [Mike Hocke] who was with us there. Rob Sale, who I think is one of the finest offensive line coaches, a good young coach is their O-line coach. Guys that know us well.”

While Georgia has been hoarding former Saban staffers recently, Florida touts several assistants with Alabama ties other than just McElwain, too.

Offensive coordinator Doug Nuessmeier followed McElwain at Alabama and was on the staff for two years, and defensive line coach Chris Rumph won a pair of national titles as an assistant with the Tide from 2011-13.

Both schools’ support staffs have Tide influence as well, as Florida’s director of player personnel Drew Hughes, one of the few holdovers from Will Muschamp’s staff, was an Alabama recruiting assistant from 2007-11.

“That’s what makes the chess match so much fun,” McElwain said, acknowledging both staffs are forced to alter game plans because of the number of cross-connections.

“We spent a week changing some of our signals because they know them all. Probably invented some of them in Rob’s case. Offensively, we worked hand-in-hand for a lot of years there.”

The Bulldogs didn’t fare well earlier this season when they matched up against the Mothership, losing to Alabama 38-10 at home.

A Florida (6-1, 4-1) victory Saturday would virtually lock up the SEC East, but a Georgia win would put the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) into the drivers seat for a division title.

With so much at stake — and so much familiarity — that staff that adjusts the best could be the difference between booking a trip to Atlanta and staying home the first weekend in December.

“[The bye] was an opportunity for us to work on ourselves,” McElwain said.

“Really break down the tendency part, especially going into a game knowing what great coaches we’re going against. Guys that know us. Being able to work on some different packages and make them game ready, where you feel good as a coach putting it out there.”

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