AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn linebackers coach Lance Thompson is still chummy with some of his former colleagues at rival Alabama. He also speaks highly of his old boss, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, he just hasn’t spoken to him.
Not since he switched sides in one of college football’s most sharply divided rivalries in January.
”Me and Nick don’t have anything to talk about right now,” Thompson said. ”But I don’t have any hard feelings toward coach. He does a tremendous job. Looking forward to playing against him.”
He offers the familiar refrain that the move wasn’t personal, it was business. Doing what’s best for himself and his family in a career where he’s had three stops at two different schools under Saban – with a three-year stint in between at another of the Crimson Tide’s rivals, Tennessee.
When Thompson reached out to new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, it certainly seemed like a coup for the Tigers. Thompson has twice been ranked as the nation’s top recruiter.
He helped bring top recruits Julio Jones, AJ McCarron, Mark Barron, D.J. Fluker and Trent Richardson to Alabama.
All were significant contributors on national title teams and are now in the NFL.
Thompson won’t publicly say anything negative about Saban – whom he worked with at LSU and in separate stints with the Tide – or about the reaction from `Bama fans on social media after the move.
Like most coaches, he has a different perspective on rivalries than fans. Especially now that he’s on the other side.
Thompson said he’s still close to a number of his former Alabama colleagues, including offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal and tight ends coach Bobby Williams. He worked on Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee in 2009.
”In ball, it’s kind of like it’s a cult,” Thompson said. ”You’ve got your cult at your school but then there’s a cult of coaches like the SEC coaches. And we all know each other. We’ve been around each other a long time. We know each other. We know how each other think and operate. We have a healthy, mutual respect for each other.
”But then on game day we have a competitor’s mind-set where you go out and do what you’ve got to do.”
As for Saban, he said he has ”no beef with Nick.”
Thompson clearly is happy working with Gus Malzahn at Auburn, speaking glowingly of a presentation on sportsmanship the head coach gave to players this week. He also said his family was impressed with how the coach and his wife Kristi both treated their daughters.
”I’ve worked with some guys for 9-10 years and they probably couldn’t tell you my children’s name(s),” Thompson said. ”I worked for coach Malzahn two weeks, my daughters came over for a recruiting weekend. He and his wife Kristi knew everything about them – where they went to school, what they were studying, everything about them in a weekend.”
He demurred when a reporter asked if Saban, his boss for seven years, knew his children’s names.
”I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. ”I don’t talk about other people. I’m a positive guy. Coach Saban did a lot of good for me. He and his wife are tremendous people for me, for my career, and for my family. I’m just telling you a story about coach Malzahn.”