Ellis Johnson spent eight years at Alabama during a pair of coaching stints.
Johnson's oldest son was born in Tuscaloosa, and Johnson received a national championship ring in 1992 as a member of Gene Stallings' staff that won Alabama's 12th national championship.
But Johnson said No. 22 USC's trip to second-ranked Alabama this week is a great opportunity for all the Gamecocks, not just the two members of Steve Spurrier's staff with Alabama ties. USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward played at Alabama from 1986-89 and was a graduate assistant there under Johnson in 1993.
"If there's anybody in college coaching that doesn't consider it a special day to go coach in Bryant-Denny (Stadium), then they need to get out of coaching," said Johnson, USC's assistant head coach for defense. "Is it a little bit more for me? Obviously, having coached there I appreciate the tradition as much as anybody, if not more.
"And it's always fun to go compete against the best."
The Gamecocks are facing their second top-five opponent in a four-game stretch. The Crimson Tide boast a defense ranked among the nation's best, as was the case in 1999 when Johnson was the defensive coordinator the last time Alabama won an SEC championship.
Johnson was out of work the following year when Mike DuBose was fired following a season in which the Tide started ranked No. 3 but finished 3-8.
The 57-year-old Johnson returned to Tuscaloosa a couple of times as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator, but this will be his first trip to Bryant-Denny with the Gamecocks. The 80-year-old stadium has undergone an expansion since Johnson left that increased capacity to 92,139; another ongoing project will push capacity over 101,000.
"Frankly, when I coached at Alabama we went in a lot of louder stadiums than we had at Alabama," Johnson said. "Alabama's got very football-intelligent fans. They've been used to championships. They've been used to tradition. They've seen it all. It's gotten a lot louder now because it's bigger now than it was."
Johnson, a Winnsboro native in his second year at USC, is concerned about how his young defense will respond in a hostile environment against an offense averaging 37 points a game. In a 28-26 win against Kentucky on Saturday, Johnson said he counted seven freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the field at the same time.
"I'm sure it'll be a tough environment because of the football team and coach (Nick) Saban. It won't be anything because of the fans. That'll be the secondary issue," Johnson said. "I know it's going to be tough for these young freshmen to go in that environment"
Alabama tailback Mark Ingram averages 109.8 rushing yards a game behind an offensive line that has helped Alabama lead the SEC in time of possession at more than 34 minutes a game.
"They just pound the ball and look for their moments to hit you with the big-play guys on the perimeter," Johnson said. "The backs are physical, then they've got (receiver) Julio Jones and two other kids who can fly."
Saban said Johnson is a good complement to Spurrier, much like Bob Stoops was as Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida.
"They're very good on defense. Ellis Johnson does an outstanding job," Saban said. "Steve is a really good offensive coach, and he needs a really good defensive coordinator, and he certainly has one in Ellis Johnson."
Johnson is well versed in Tuscaloosa traditions, from Dreamland barbecue to the Paul (Bear) Bryant Museum on campus, not that he plans to spend time at the latter this weekend.
"No, I did that when I was recruiting kids," Johnson said. "I know about everything in that museum other than what's happened the last 10 years."
Forget the nostalgia; this is a business trip for Johnson.