KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's home opener against Indiana State University on Saturday at Neyland Stadium may feel like a reunion of the Midwestern Football Coaches Association.
If such an organization existed, Tennessee coach Butch Jones, Indiana State coach Curt Mallory and several of their assistants would be members.
Mallory and Jones worked together on the 2001 Central Michigan staff with Jones as offensive coordinator and Mallory as defensive backs coach.
"He's a close friend of mine," Jones said of his ISU counterpart.
But that's just where the pleasantries between the Volunteer (1-0) and the Sycamores (0-1) begin.
First-year Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke employed Mallory and Indiana State assistants Mark Smith, Jeff Hecklinski and Darrell Funk at Michigan when Hoke was the Wolverines' coach from 2011 to '14.
Mallory was Hoke's defensive backs coach at Michigan, Hecklinski was an assistant head coach, Funk was the Wolverines' offensive line coach and Smith coached linebackers and the defensive line.
Another Sycamores assistant, Roy Roundtree, played at Michigan during their tenures.
Hecklinski, Smith and Funk also worked for Hoke when he was the head coach at Ball State and San Diego State.
The ties between Tennessee's Hoke and Indiana State's Mallory get even deeper, though.
"It goes back a lot further," Mallory said. "Brady's father, who has since passed, and my father played together at Miami of Ohio. His older brother worked with my oldest brother at Kent State. Then, myself, obviously Brady hired me at Michigan and I was the secondary coach for four years. We both come from football families, and we've all known each other for a long, long time."
Hoke said he spent time at Mallory's house over the summer with several of his former Michigan colleagues who will be his competitors Saturday.
"They're a lot of good guys who are really good football coaches and even better people," Hoke said. "It will be fun to compete. I talked to Mark Smith briefly yesterday. He's the enemy, so we're not going to talk until right before the game, and then we're going to compete like heck."
Indiana State dropped its opener last week 22-20 to Eastern Illinois in Mallory's first game as head coach.
The Sycamores compete in the Missouri Valley Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision and will be substantial underdogs Saturday. Mallory said he is focused on improving his team between week one and two and not on the upcoming reunion in Knoxville.
"To be honest with you, and (Hoke) will tell you the same thing, it's about Indiana State and Tennessee playing, and it has nothing to do with me," Mallory said.
"I've got four coaches on my staff that worked for Brady. We all worked for him at Michigan, but I don't think it's made out to be anything big other than it'll be good to see him because he's a friend."
As Mallory predicted, Hoke shared a similar sentiment about the relationship between the staffs.
"Oh, I think it's unique," Hoke said. "But it's Tennessee versus Indiana State, so that's the cool thing about it."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.