ATHENS -- Pete Herrmann and Philip Pearson dont remember if they said anything funny to each other during the pregame handshake. Pearson just recalls scrambling to get his team together, while Herrmann said it felt like any other game, except for one thing.
Phillip and I coached in the first interim game ever, Hermann said with a laugh.
Two seasons ago, the last time Georgia played at Alabama in mens basketball, each program was in flux and arguably near rock bottom. Both had fired their head coaches, leaving Herrmann as the interim coach at Georgia and Pearson in the same awkward position at Alabama.
Things have changed a lot as the Bulldogs return to Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Georgia is in good shape to make it to the NCAA tournament and has a chance to be the No. 2 seed out of the SEC East; Alabama has already clinched the SEC Wests top seed.
Both programs have head coaches who have engineered the turnaround: Anthony Grant at Alabama and Mark Fox at Georgia.
But in one twist, Pearson is part of the staff at Georgia. So the return to Tuscaloosa -- where he spent five years as a player and 11 more as a coach -- is quite the homecoming.
Itll be different, said Pearson, 40, whose wife and three children were all born in Tuscaloosa. On the one hand, its the next game, and thats the one youve gotta be ready for. On the other hand, Id be lying if I said it wouldnt be different than some other road games.
Pearson said it has been good to watch the Crimson Tide (19-10 overall, 11-4 SEC) do well. He helped recruit a number of the current players, including star forward and leading scorer JaMychal Green.
Its hard to ever really pull against those guys, Pearson said.
Herrmann has a similar outlook on the Georgia team he left two seasons ago.
These days Herrmann, a veteran of the coaching business, is on a new endeavor. Hes starting a program from scratch at Young Harris College in north Georgia.
In Athens, Herrmann was part of a staff headed by Dennis Felton that recruited and coached current Bulldogs Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie, Jeremy Price and Dustin Ware. But Herrmann has also known Fox for a long time and describes him as a friend.
So as he watches this team succeed, Herrmann said he feels no bitterness or ill feelings.
Ive felt that obviously that I could have done a good job, and Dennis felt he could have done a good job with this group, Herrmann said. But Mark has done a good job. Hes done a fine job with these guys.
And both Herrmann and Pearson are thankful not to be in the awkward position they were in a couple of seasons ago.
Alabama won that interim bowl on Jan. 31, 2009 by a 75-70 score. It was only Pearsons second game as a head coach, two days after the first one. It was Herrmanns first game as the interim, but unlike Pearson, he had experience being a head coach, at Navy.
I dont think theres any black book on how to be prepared to be an interim coach, Pearson said. If there is, I certainly didnt have it. We just tried to keep our guys together and get them playing hard and playing as well as you can.
Herrmann went 3-9 as the Bulldogs interim coach, but that included home wins over Florida and Vanderbilt, along with a road win over Kentucky. That showed a glimpse of hope for the future, which Fox and Pearson are helping fulfill.
Im very proud of the players at Georgia, Herrmann said. I was with all of them. Trey and Travis were part of our group there. And theyve matured, and theyve grow up, and theyve accepted coaching. Theyve been tough-minded through this whole season. I hope that they can make a run here in the SEC tournament and for the NCAA tournament.