Saban accepts Dolphins head coaching position

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 28, 2004

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Nick Saban finally turned pro Saturday, accepting an offer to coach the Miami Dolphins.

The LSU coach, courted repeatedly by the NFL in recent years, mulled over the deal for three days before announcing his decision shortly after the Tigers arrived in Orlando for their Jan. 1 bowl game against Iowa.

''It's a tremendous challenge for me,'' Saban said, ''and a great opportunity for me and my family.''

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Saban will coach LSU in the game before taking over a long-proud Dolphins franchise enduring its worst season since the 1960s. He becomes the sixth coach in team history, and the fourth since Wayne Huizenga took over as owner in 1994.

Touted as NFL material even when he was at Michigan State in the late 1990s, Saban has turned down previous overtures from at least five pro teams, including Atlanta and Chicago a year ago. He has been considered the favorite to become the Dolphins' coach since Dave Wannstedt resigned last month after they started 1-8.

Saban first interviewed for the job last week at his home in Baton Rouge, La., hosting team owner Wayne Huizenga and president Eddie Jones for dinner. They met again Friday.

Even though the Dolphins are 3-11, the job has appeal because of a winning tradition and Huizenga's apparent willingness to give Saban full authority over the football operation. That could mean the demotion or departure of general manager Rick Spielman

Saban, 53, is 9-2 this season and 48-15 in five years at LSU, taking his team to a bowl game every season. LSU went 3-8 the year before he arrived and 8-4 in his first season. An SEC title followed in 2001, and he led the Tigers to last season's BCS national championship.

''It's the most self-gratifying experience I've had as a coach,'' Saban said. ''But I've always been driven by challenges - the next challenge that makes driven people want to take advantage of the next opportunity.''

The highest-paid coach in college football, Saban is in the first year of an $18.45 million, seven-year contract at LSU, but the deal has no buyout clause penalizing him for taking another job. The deal with the Dolphins is believed to exceed $4 million per year.

The other candidates interviewed by Huizenga were former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell and Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates. Many Miami players lobbied for Huizenga to keep Bates, who is 2-3 since being promoted from defensive coordinator. His team plays Cleveland on Sunday night.

Bates may return next season to his former job. He and Saban were assistants together with the Cleveland Browns in 1991-1993. Saban's other NFL experience was as an assistant coach with the Houston Oilers in 1988-89.