HARRISONBURG, Va. Mickey Matthews figures he has shared the same football field with Brad Lambert dozens of times.
Saturday, however, the two longtime friends will be on opposite sides of a field for a first time, when Matthews James Madison Dukes (2-1) play Lamberts Charlotte 49ers (2-1) at 6 p.m. in Bridgeforth Stadium.
Its going to be different for sure, Matthews said. Im looking forward to this game, but seeing Brad across there will just be
Matthews voice trailed off as he tried to describe what coaching against one of his closest friends might be like.
I dont know, he finally said. Its just going to be very different for all of us.
Matthews and Lambert coached together as assistants for nine seasons from 1990-95 at Marshall, where they helped the Thundering Herd win the 1992 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title, and from 1996-98 at Georgia.
Theyve gone their separate ways professionally since: Matthews, 59, to James Madison in 1999, where he has built one of the countrys top FCS programs, and Lambert, 48, to Wake Forest as an assistant and then to Charlotte, where he is architect of the 49ers first-year program.
During that time, the friendship they forged was typical of two regular guys. Their families were close. They carpooled to work. The Lamberts gave the Matthews family one of their dogs puppies.
But the relationship between two football coaches on the same staff built from hours in film rooms, meetings, travel and practices can be especially close.
It runs deep, Lambert said. Mickeys been such an influence on the football side of my life. We worked so closely together, and I learned a lot of things from him. That sticks with you.
The common denominator between Lambert and Matthews is Jim Donnan, who hired them when he was head coach at Marshall from 1990-95, then brought them along to Georgia in 1996.
Lambert had been a graduate assistant at Oklahoma under Donnan in 1988-89 and came to Marshall as the Thundering Herds defensive ends coach. Matthews, 11 years older than Lambert, had already made several coaching stops before Donnan hired him as Marshalls defensive coordinator.
They were both very good teachers and good game-day guys, Donnan said. Brad was always up in the (press) box talking to Mickey, telling him what we needed to do. They were together a lot.
Lambert and Matthews both come from small towns. Lambert grew up in Hoxie, Kan., and Matthews was raised in Andrews, Texas.
Theres that bond that you have because of our backgrounds, Matthews said. Our personalities meshed and things just clicked.
Then, when youre in the same (coaching) room, you form a lot of game plans, you conspire, you talk about recruiting. Theres so much of that, you just become really close to a guy.
Too close, some times.
He knows Im pretty hard-headed, but hes pretty hard-headed, too, Lambert said. We used to butt heads a lot. When youre in a defensive staff room, youre throwing ideas on the wall, its part of what you do. Thats what made our relationship so good and close.
That relationship was tested recently when Lambert hired strength coach Jim Durning away from Matthews and James Madison.
Lambert knew he had a tough phone call to make to Matthews.
I wasnt going to do it without Mickeys blessing, Lambert said.
Matthews, told that Lambert was nervous about calling him, is happy to rib him:
He should have been, Matthews said. He was taking my right arm (in Durning).
Matthews is then told that Lambert felt some guilt about hiring Durning, who wanted to be part of a 49ers program that is moving to Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.
Good! Matthews said.
Durning isnt the only James Madison connection on Charlottes staff. Offensive line coach Phil Ratliff an All-American at Marshall when Lambert and Matthews were there was on the James Madison coaching staff in 2004-05. The Dukes won the national championship in 2004.
There are so many similarities between the two of them, Ratliff said. The way they deal with people. They both coached hard-nosed defense. They understand how to recruit on this level. And how they treat people. Theyre turning these young men into men.
For Mickey Matthews and Brad Lambert, that might be their strongest bond.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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