Sports Outside the Beltway

Saban Leaning Toward Alabama, Will Decide Wednesday

The Alabama-Nick Saban-Miami Dolphins intrigue should end by 10 tomorrow morning.

Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga told reporters on Tuesday that head coach Nick Saban has asked to have until 10:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday to make a decision on staying with Miami or accepting an offer from Alabama.

“The meeting went good,” Huizenga said. “We had a quick meeting. We had a nice conversation. Coach asked if we could defer the decision until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. And then he went into several reasons as to why he wanted to do that. I agree 100 percent with his reasons. I understand more now what he’s thinking about.”

A Miami team source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Saban informed the coaching staff earlier Tuesday that he was “struggling with the decision,” but the staff got the distinct impression that Saban was likely to take the Alabama job. Another team source told Mortensen that Huizenga has been in frequent talks with Saban in an effort to keep the coach from accepting the job in Tuscaloosa. Saban was seen leaving the Dolphins’ facility at 4:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday. He smiled and waved at reporters but didn’t stop to talk.

Huizenga remained optimistic Tuesday that Saban would return to Miami. “I’m hoping he’s leaning on staying,” Huizenga was quoted as saying in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I like Nick a lot and hope he’s going to stay. I’m not upset. You just have to play this thing through.”

Alabama made its formal offer to Saban on Monday after rumors swirled for weeks that the Crimson Tide were pursuing the former LSU coach. The offer is believed to be worth $35 million to $40 million, and includes many variables, Mortensen reported Monday. It could run from eight to 10 years. The offer does not contain a provision for a signing bonus. In general, colleges don’t pay signing bonuses, and there has never been the suggestion Alabama will pay one here.

I’ll be glad when this is over; it’s taking a ridiculous amount of time to play out. Saban is a great college coach and I’d be happy to have him at Alabama. Still, his constant, vehement denials on the matter make me question his character somewhat. Yes, all coaches lie when asked about their interest in plum assignments. But Saban didn’t leave himself much wiggle room.

UPDATE: A couple of interesting pieces from the Miami Herald on the subject, both fully expecting Saban to take the Bama job.

Greg Cote says it’s Saban’s own fault that he keeps getting asked questions about the job.

Nick Saban is gone. Taking his Panama hat to Tuscaloosa. Taking on the ghost of Bear Bryant. Taking $40 million from the University of Alabama. Taking all of his publicly professed commitment to Miami and tossing it into the Tide.

These were the impressions Miami’s coach-for-now created and invited Monday with a stunning evasiveness that inflamed all of the speculation, instead of a simple declarative that could have ended it for good. His season-ending news conference at Dolphins headquarters worked like a seminar we’d call, How Not to Kill a Rumor. If this was an exercise in public relations, Nick could only have mishandled it more spectacularly by having O.J. Simpson introduce him and vouch for his truthfulness.

Last week, Saban said flatly, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”

On Monday, the scurrilous, persistent Tide came at Nick with a mountain of money. With an official offer.

Suddenly, Nick is not saying anything flatly anymore.

Suddenly, he is dodging and tap dancing, taking great umbrage at reporters who would dare do their job by even asking the question.

Dear Nick: Here is what you could have said Monday. You could have said, “I am flattered by Alabama’s interest in me, but it is not mutual. I have instructed my agent to decline all overtures or offers. I am not leaving the Dolphins. Period.”

Instead, you said anything but.

You might also have been forthright by admitting, “While I have no plans to leave Miami, I owe it to my family to at least consider an offer so lucrative relative to financial stability. Can you blame me?”

Instead, you put yourself squarely in between Monday by implying you were committed to Miami but sidestepping several chances to make that clear.

Armando Salguero believes that, despite all the figures being bandied about, money is not the main issue here.

Coach Nick Saban will decide whether to remain with the Dolphins or accept an estimated $36 million-$40 million contract with the University of Alabama. Although Saban might get a pay hike from Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga if he stays, the decision isn’t all about money.

Saban spent part of Monday evening meeting with Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore and then huddled with his family, weighing his loyalty to Huizenga and a desire to succeed in the NFL, football’s major league, against his love for a college-campus atmosphere and an ability to affect the lives of young men.

That’s mostly it.

It is certain Saban has substantially softened his position since Dec. 21, when he announced ”I am not going to be the Alabama coach.” And while Huizenga and others in the Miami organization still believe he will stay — as Saban had previously promised — they realize the possibility he will leave is real.


Two people close to Saban, or as close as he lets anyone outside his family get, say the Alabama offer has a chance to succeed because Saban does not particularly embrace South Florida or its lifestyle. He has a $7 million house on the water in Fort Lauderdale but apparently doesn’t take time to enjoy his surroundings. When Saban vacations he retreats to a house on a lake in Georgia. He rarely eats out locally, preferring his wife’s cooking. A native of Fairmont, W. Va., Saban is apparently more at home in a smaller town.

He was quite at home in Baton Rouge, La., as he guided Louisiana State University to a shared national title in 2003. And he has made no secret of the fact he enjoys impacting the lives of college men. His players in the NFL don’t offer him the opportunity to teach and impact them in the same way. And so Alabama, situated in Tuscaloosa, is offering Saban a chance to return to an environment he enjoys along with paying him handsomely.

The dilemma for the coach is that he also has an ego and wants to succeed in the NFL. He realizes if he leaves the Dolphins, he will be branded a failure after delivering a 15-17 record in two years. Saban also doesn’t want to disappoint Huizenga. The Dolphins owner gave Saban a five-year, $22.5 million contract starting in 2005. He allowed Saban the opportunity to hire an NFL-high 21 assistant coaches, he constructed a practice bubble at Saban’s request, and he lets Saban spend to the salary cap.

Having spent more than three years living there–starting with the year Alabama last won a national football championship–I can attest that Tuscaloosa is indeed a small town.

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