Sports Outside the Beltway

Alabama’s Saban Courtship About to Heat Up Again

The University of Alabama will make one final push to lure Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins after their final game this afternoon.

Mobile Register reporter Thomas Murphy reports,

The University of Alabama’s Nick Saban watch, on slow burn for the past month, could flare up in earnest today. Alabama officials could offer the coach a contract as early as this evening after Saban’s Miami Dolphins wrap up their season on the road at the Indianapolis Colts. The game kicks off at 3:15 p.m.


Saban, 55, has issued a series of denials of interest in the Alabama job since the position became vacant. But when ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser asked him if he could say unequivocally he would not listen to an offer from Alabama, Saban could not make that assertion.


Saban, who has a 15-16 record in Miami after leading LSU to two SEC titles, the 2003 BCS national championship and a 48-16 record in five years, has taken a “no comment” approach to questions about the Alabama job this week.

Meanwhile, Moore has remained mum about the search virtually since it started. He did not discuss it with reporters during Alabama’s trip to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. A source close to Moore descibed him as “at peace” during the holidays, as compared to the anxiety Moore was experiencing during his search in 2003 that led to the hiring of Mike Price. The source added, however, that Moore’s demeanor indicates he is satisfied a conclusion to his search is immediately at hand. The Tide coaching search has had one anticlimax already, after West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez passed on an offer of more than $2 million dollars per year on Dec. 8.


Meanwhile, if Saban were to pass on the expected offer from Alabama, it is believed Moore has been working on backup plans. Who remains on Moore’s list is a subject of speculation. ESPN analysts have thrown out the names of several NFL head coaches in recent days, such as Tom Coughlin of the New York Jets, Jim Mora Jr. of the Atlanta Falcons and Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Mark May of ESPN suggested on Saturday that Alabama look into Bill Cowher, who led Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl championship last season, but whom many expect to resign early next week. Navy’s Paul Johnson, whose Midshipmen dropped a 25-24 decision against Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Saturday, is also considered a candidate, along with Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe.

Huntsville Times reporter Paul Gattis adds:

Industry sources have indicated that they expect Saban to take the Tide job.

But Alabama is proceeding with obvious caution after missing on Rodriguez and athletic director Mal Moore – who is in charge of the search – has kept a tight grip on any details of the search.

The Miami Herald also reported Saturday that Alabama is expected to come after Saban as early as tonight or Monday. Saban would receive an annual salary of about $4 million annually and a signing bonus of about $7 million, according to the Herald. The salary would make Saban the highest paid coach in college football – a distinction currently held by Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, who makes just more than $3 million per year. A $4 million salary, while maybe on the fringe of possibility, appears to be a little high. The $7 million signing bonus, however, would be unprecedented in college football.

Whoever the new coach is, he figures to have some talent at his disposal. Alabama will return nine starters on offense, including quarterback John Parker Wilson and receivers DJ Hall and Keith Brown. Wilson, who had already set a single-season school record for passing yards, set the mark for touchdown passes with his scoring strike to Matt Caddell in the Independence Bowl. The offensive line returns intact along with tight end Travis McCall. The losses are heavier on defense. The Tide loses six starters, including leading tacklers Juwan Simpson and safety Jeffrey Dukes as well as three-year starter Ramzee Robinson at cornerback.

Ian Rapoport of the Birmingham News continues that theme, noting that, “Five years of NCAA-induced probation ends Feb. 1. Barring an unforeseen incident, the next time the Crimson Tide play football, it will begin anew.”

The next coach will be in position to make significant progress toward the yearly goal of winning a Southeastern Conference championship, even after a 6-7 season. That was so obvious that interim coach Joe Kines made a point after Alabama’s 34-31 PetroSun Independence Bowl loss to Oklahoma State Thursday to reinforce the expectations for 2007. “There is a champion in that (locker) room,” Kines said. “They are good young players, and they are going to work hard. … We don’t settle for average at Alabama.”


Reinforcing the optimism is the fact that four of Alabama’s tough SEC losses came on the road, and UA had a second-half lead in three of them.

The irony is that the team would likely be quite a bit better next year even under Shula, yet his successor will get the credit, all the while using offensive starters he recruited. Not fair, but then life–let alone big time coaching–seldom is. Shula can take some comfort, though, in his multi-million dollar parting gift.

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