They worked together as young, up-and-coming assistant coaches before career paths took them in different directions.
Today, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and Florida's Will Muschamp meet at a remarkably similar crossroads as two tradition-rich programs strive for their old places of national prominence.
No. 23 Tennessee (2-0) and No. 18 Florida (2-0) play at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.) in a game that could catapult the winner into the SEC East race. For the loser, the defeat will be familiar.
Dooley, in his third year with the Vols, is 0-10 against nationally ranked opponents. Muschamp, in Year 2, is 0-5 against Top 25 teams.
The Gators won 13 games as recently as 2009, but Dooley and the Vols are on a longer road back.
Tennessee is ranked for the first time since the first week of the 2008 season, and the Vols have lost 17 of 18 to ranked teams.
The years of drought explain the week of excitement in Knoxville. The game sold out rapidly and secondary market ticket prices have surged.
But inside the football headquarters on Johnny Majors Drive, little has changed. Publicly, Dooley has offered gentle reminders that this is only Week 3, and that the Vols currently have the same record that they did last year at this time. (Tennessee lost seven of its final 10 games in 2011).
"If we win, we have a lot more games left on the schedule," Dooley said. "If we don't win, the sky isn't going to fall. We have to regroup, learn from it and go play the rest of the schedule. We've played two games."
Dooley and Muschamp coached together under Nick Saban at LSU and then the Miami Dolphins. Dooley became head coach at Louisiana Tech, while Muschamp took a job as defensive coordinator at Auburn and then Texas. Muschamp eventually assumed the head-coach-in-waiting title at Texas, but the wait turned out to be quite lengthy. With Texas coach Mack Brown showing no inkling of retirement, Muschamp left for Florida when Urban Meyer resigned following the 2010 season.
Meyer had left some holes on the Gators' roster — perhaps more than anyone realized — but the Florida recruiting juggernaut has continued under Muschamp.
"I think Will is getting the team how he wants it," Dooley said.
Muschamp said the same of Dooley.
"I think you're kind of seeing a little bit more of his identity and personality in this football team as maybe opposed to the previous two years," Muschamp said.
Even in mid-September, there are plenty of unknowns about this year's Tennessee team, and Dooley acknowledged as much.
"This is our third game, our conference opener," he said. "We'll find out a little more about our football team this week."
The rest of the country could find out more about the Vols as well. Three players who could have NFL futures — quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson — will have a chance to showcase their talents nationally tonight.
Bray, like Dooley, is seeking his first marquee win with the Vols. If he puts up numbers like he has in the first two weeks, a win might push him into more national awards talk.
"He's played two great games, but he also knows he's going to get measured by his body of work over time," Dooley said. "This will be a big challenge for him. He knows he's going to get a lot of pressure. He has to get the ball out, and our guys have to win outside on the perimeter."
Hunter, a junior, has only started seven games in his career due to injury, and Dooley believes he still has room to grow. He'll get a chance to prove today that he can rack up yards against a physical Florida secondary.
"This is going to be a whole different philosophy in the secondary because they are going to put their hands on us and play deny-the-ball," Dooley said. "They're going to grab and they're going to push. It's going to be physical. We have to go out there and match it."
If the Vols pull it off, they'll be 3-0 for the first time since 2004 and snap a seven-game losing streak against the Gators. A victory would set off a huge celebration among the win-starved fan base, but it would also elevate the importance of future games, starting with Sept. 29 at Georgia.
"The more you win, the more important they become," Dooley said. "That's how it is."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.