Nov. 6, 2013
By Whitney Haworth UTSports.com
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When Auburn comes to Neyland Stadium on Saturday, two Tennessee coaches won't be strangers to the Tigers.
Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez only spent one season with the Tigers, but Tommy Thigpen spent the last four, including working with Auburn's current head coach, Gus Malzahn, so the Tennessee linebackers coach is ready to face a familiar foe.
"Tommy is a friend of mine," said Malzahn. "I've got a lot of respect for Tommy as a coach. He has a great mind. We went against each other numerous times at practice so he knows our personnel very well. He's a very intelligent coach."
In his tenure at Auburn, the National Championship 2010 season is what Thigpen remembers the most.
"That's the biggest one - the 2010 season and watching a kid like Cam Newton," said Thigpen. "Probably the most dynamic, one of the most dynamic players I've ever seen and then probably one of the best character kids I've ever been around. Really got our team going and kids believing and they played hard.
"Just those memories and again, you probably get the national championship once in a lifetime, so that in itself is something to be remembered."
Thigpen may not have coached every player on the Tigers' roster, but he is well aware of the type of system that Auburn football works under.
"When they put in the plays, they don't change for many people," said Thigpen. They're going to run their plays and they're going to run them well. They're going to run them fast."
While Thigpen was at Auburn, the Tigers posted the ninth-best run defense in the nation (allowing 109.1 per game) in 2010.
With Auburn's explosive offense, the Tennessee's defense must be ready to move all over the field, but Thigpen knows that players such as AJ Johnson are capable of adjusting to the plays called.
"A.J. [Johnson] makes tackles all over the field," said Thigpen. "They're going to put the ball on the perimeter and we're going to have to be in shape to run from sideline to sideline."
While it will be nice to see familiar faces, Thigpen knows Saturday is business as usual.
"I came to Tennessee to win ballgames," said Thigpen. "That's our No. 1 goal is to win out in Neyland Stadium."