SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, 15th-ranked Utah and Notre Dame will square off in football for the first time.
For assistant coaches Aaron and Tony Alford, however, it'll be a second meeting.
The brothers, who work with the Utes and Irish, respectively, were on opposing sidelines in 2007 when Tony was on the staff at Louisville. Younger brother Aaron and the Utes won the head-to-head matchup, 44-35.
As the rematch approaches, Tony is well aware that Aaron got the better end of things the first time around.
Getting even, though, isn't foremost on big brother's mind.
"I'm just anxious to see him and give him a hug before the game," Tony said before joking that he would "probably punch him in the mouth at the 50-yard line before we kick off."
All kidding aside, these siblings share a strong bond and professional respect. They communicate often via telephone or on Facebook.
This weekend will be a little bit emotional. The brothers will get together for the first time since their father's funeral last summer.
"This is more of a celebration of life," Aaron said.
Their mother has flown in from Colorado Springs and approximately 25 family and friends are expected to be in South Bend for a gathering.
"It's go-time with the Alfords. I know my brother's house is going to be filled up like a helium balloon. It's going to be packed," Aaron said. "He's the host and we're trying to ruin the dinner, that's all."
The friendly banter between the brothers dates back to their childhood. Aaron claims the tears he appeared to shed when playing ball against Tony were actually sweat. Tony, though, insists Aaron still cries whenever he says "boo" — although he'd never tell anybody about that.
The Alfords, noted Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, are a very close-knit group.
"There's a lot of love in that family," he said.
The brothers also share a passion for football.
When Whittingham changed Aaron's coaching duties from cornerbacks to running backs before the 2009 season, the siblings met at Notre Dame.
"His brother has been coaching running backs for a long time. He's one of the experts of the position," Whittingham said. "What better resource than your own brother to go get up to speed on what you need to know."
Aaron whole-heartedly agreed.
"What better person to learn from than your own brother," Aaron noted. "He's my mentor. I look up to him and he's really helped me come along in this profession."
Tony said it was time well spent.
"All of it wasn't football, mind you," he explained. "We went out and had a couple of glasses of water. It was good to have him here."
Running back play, though, did get discussed extensively.
"Any help that I could give or afford him, hopefully, it was good for him," Tony said. "I'm flattered Kyle felt comfortable enough with having him come visit me."
However, Irish fans need not be overly concerned.
"I didn't tell him everything," Tony said with a laugh. "I didn't tell him all that I know."
Tony, who is now coaching Notre Dame's wide receivers, is proud of how Aaron has handled his business in the profession.
"He's making such a good name for himself," Tony said. "He's on a great staff with Kyle and that crew. Those guys do a great job."
Off the field, Tony is proud of the man that Aaron has become.
"That's my guy. He's done well," Tony continued. "He's really done great things."
Aaron, in turn, has an appreciation for Tony's accomplishments. Tony was the only assistant coach retained when Charlie Weis was replaced by Brian Kelly this season.
"Tony loves it there. Everybody knows it's a historical program. It's a great place to be," Aaron said. "All I can say is they take care of my brother and obviously he's loving it."
The reunion at Notre Dame Stadium, he noted, will be special for a variety of reasons — one standing out more than the others.4 comments on this story
"It's exciting because it's a time our family can come together," Aaron said. "I'm talking all cousins, extended family and friends."
The fun will turn to business, however, when the game gets under way. Tony said the focus will shift to hoping your players perform well
"We like to say it's between he and I. But it really isn't. This has nothing to do with him and I," Tony explained. "It has everything to do with our players, our respective schools, our staffs and our fans."
Utes on the air
No. 15 Utah (8-1) at Notre Dame (4-5)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (MT)
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC (KSL Ch. 5)
Radio: 700 AM