ATLANTA — Follow, if you will: Team A will play Team B on Monday night.
The head coach of Team B spent nine recent seasons coaching defense at Team A. The defensive coordinator of Team A spent two recent seasons coordinating defense at Team B. The defensive coordinator of Team B spent one recent season as associate head coach and defensive backs coach of Team A.
The outside linebackers coach of Team B spent three fairly recent seasons as the director of player development for Team A, such that the defensive coordinator of Team A has just hired the outside linebackers coach of Team B to become his defensive coordinator at Team C, which is Tennessee, which is very much not in this game.
The wide receivers coach at Team B worked for the head coach at Team A, with the Miami Dolphins, from 2005 to 2006, while the inside linebackers coach at Team B worked for eight recent seasons as the undergraduate analyst, graduate assistant and director of player development at Team A.
And as the head coach of Team A sat at a dais downtown with the head coach of Team B on Sunday morning, the head coach of Team A referred to his own wife and to the Team B head coach's children when he said, "Terry was there when his babies were born." That followed Saturday, when the head coach of Team B said that when it comes to the struggles and nuances of being married to a college football head coach, the wife of the head coach of Team A has "definitely mentored" his wife.
Clearly, this particular College Football Playoff national championship game, between Alabama (a Team A if ever there was one) and Georgia (Team B), should not happen in a state-of-art spaceship of a stadium such as Mercedes-Benz.
It should happen in some back yard.
Take it back only to Oct. 3, 2015, in nearby Athens, Ga. Georgia (then 4-0) ranked No. 8 and felt excited. Alabama (then 3-1) ranked No. 13 and felt miffed, having just lost two weeks prior at home to Ole Miss, thus violating all known patterns of the known universe. Alabama plied its trademark forbiddance of drama and won, 38-10, with current Georgia Coach Kirby Smart as its defensive coordinator, and with current Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as its associate head coach and defensive backs coach. On the other side, Georgia had future Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as its defensive coordinator and former Alabama director of player development Kevin Sherrer as its outside linebackers coach.
Obviously, all this weird familiarity throws some puzzles, strategy-wise.
Smart: "Sometimes, you talk yourself out of things that you should do because you know what the other team does, and I think you've got to be careful of that."
Pruitt: "You know, it's interesting, because sometimes you might could overthink it, 'cause you say, 'Okay, if we do this, Kirby's going to know we're going to do this, so they're going to try to do it this way.' And I'm sure he's probably sitting there doing the same thing, so it'll probably be hit-and-miss in the game."
Tack on that both belong to, of course, the same conference, the Southeastern, which meant that when Alabama played Tennessee and Mississippi State this season, Georgia already had played those two, deepening Alabama's study of a Georgia it already understood utterly. Ahead of kickoff, this sounds destined to be some spare occasion, with buzzards flying overhead, bruises forming left and right and somebody winning 2-0, in overtime.
It's also, all of it, a one-game tribute to Saban, for whom half the Georgia staff has worked. By defying human nature, outwitting the dreaded complacency, going 124-14 the past 10 seasons with four national championships (hiking his own total to five) and staging a dynasty in which a 10-3 season in 2010 turns up as the dud of the bunch — 10-3! — Saban has caused some predictable byproducts.
The utmost of those might come in two guys who can compare Decembers — really rare, rarefied Decembers.
For the past month, Pruitt has coordinated the defense at Alabama toward the College Football Playoff while also preparing for the job he'll begin in full Tuesday: head coach at woebegone Tennessee. Two years ago, Smart coordinated the defense at Alabama toward the College Football Playoff while also preparing for the job he began in full thereafter: head coach at dissatisfied Georgia.
Because of the towering refusal-to-lose of Saban, Smart can say of Pruitt, "He was in a worse situation, because I didn't have to deal with a signing day," a reference to that early signing period that dropped into coaches' schedules Dec. 20.
Because of the seemingly endless excellence commanded by Saban, Pruitt can say, "You know, there's only 24 hours in a day. To me, it's a little bit of a feeling of guilt. You know, what you almost feel like is, 'Sitting here working on this game. Should I be doing something for the place that I'm about to go?' Or, the fact that I'm trying to recruit for Tennessee, or set up, or hire somebody. 'Should I be spending this 45 minutes getting ready to figure out a way to stop [Georgia running backs] Sony [Michel] and Nick [Chubb]?' So there's really not a good answer to that. I've tried to manage it the best I could."
"I'm not tired at all," the 43-year-old said. "I probably won't get tired until maybe February."
In this odd construct, when Alabama coaches would go to recruit, it would enable Pruitt to go to recruit for Tennessee. In turn, having hired Georgia's Sherrer to be his defensive coordinator, he can josh, "I told him he needs to be working on Tennessee this whole week."
In the colloquial way of using "setting" for the word "sitting," Pruitt said, "We want to be 'setting' here as soon as possible."
He meant Tennessee, while coaching Alabama, and anticipating collaborating with a former Alabama coach at Georgia.
Man, that Saban.
In explaining this elongated Alabama run, Smart said of Saban, "He never asked anybody in the organization to work any harder than he did. He held every person on the staff — and I'm not talking about just the coaching staff, I'm talking about the entire organization — to be at their best. And I think that's sometimes a lost art in some organizations." Pruitt told of Saban's hands-on style at practice, especially with cornerbacks, which Pruitt called Saban's "passion," saying, "If you told him he couldn't be the corners coach, he'd probably just quit."
"So they'll probably let him be the corners coach for a while."
In turn, Saban attributed his 11-0 record against his former assistants to unequal playing fields, to Alabama's established presence against programs more fledgling. Now he will oppose one that wasn't fledgling to begin with and has zoomed in a two-season whoosh from anything resembling fledgling. "Kirby," he said, "did as good a job as anybody ever did for us."
So here they are, the whole family, in the big yard.