(Nick Saban. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Many times, coaches who change their jobs or owners who move their teams have to do a considerable amount of lying along the way -- it comes with the territory. But few people in history have lied as excessively as Nick Saban did when he took the University of Alabama football job. Even to the last minute he denied having any interest in 'Bama at all, only to accept the job less than a day later.
Saban had joined the Miami Dolphins in 2005 with heavy expectations on his back. The Dolphins were at one point one of the most prestigious franchises in the league; from the point they joined the NFL as a part of the AFL merger in 1970, Miami had just two losing seasons over the next 34 years, and in that time, the Dolphins won two Super Bowls and even accomplished a perfect season.
But since the retirement of Dan Marino, the 'Fins had begun to struggle. They hadn't made the playoffs in four years (which by their standards was an eternity) so they lured Saban away from LSU, where he had just won a national championship. As the bastion of discipline, hard work, honesty, integrity and loyalty -- and with a track record to support his claims, Saban was designated to lead the Dolphins back to the top.
However, meetings between Jimmy Sexton (Saban's agent) and Alabama persisted, leaving many to speculate that Saban was coordinating his way out of town. Surely, people wondered, a man who held himself to that a high a standard wouldn't dare run away in the middle of his contract? After all, when offensive tackle Manny Wright had asked to be traded, it was Saban who retorted, "This is the real world. It’s business. You have a job. You have a responsibility. The best way to disrespect someone is to just walk away from them."
Saban attempted to put the rumor to rest, flatly denying in as vehement a way as possible that the Alabama job wasn't tempting him. "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," became his catchphrase, as it was heard constantly throughout the month of December.
"I guess I have to say it: I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," he authoritatively said again on December 21st. "I shouldn’t even have to comment on this. I think I’ve said this over and over and over again."
On December 26th, a week before accepting the Alabama job, Saban categorically denied being the least bit curious about coaching the Crimson Tide. "I don't know how many times I've got to respond to rumor and innuendo," he said. "I have no control over that. I've stated what my intentions are and they really haven’t changed, so I don’t know what the issue is. And I don’t know why people keep asking about it. What they talk about over there is their business. But what’s happening here is my business and our business, and that’s what we’re focused on."
That week, the Dolphins ended the season at 6-10, missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year. It was the first time in Saban's thirteen years of coaching that he had finished with a losing record, and some believed his urge to return to college was stronger than ever.
By January, everyone knew a decision was going to be made soon. Alabama declared that they planned on hiring a coach by January 5th, whether it was Saban or not. Saban asked Dolphins' owner Wayne Huizenga for the two to meet on January 3rd at 10 AM. There they would at last put to rest what was in Saban's future.
"I want to make it perfectly clear. This press conference is about the Miami Dolphins and it's about the Miami Dolphins Football team," Saban told reporters. "It's not about any other individual and whatever is out there. We're talking about our football team here. The focus is how we can improve our team."
The meeting came and went, and Saban made his decision. That day, Nick Saban jumped ship and agreed to an 8-year, $32 million contract with none other than Alabama. Not only did he "just walk away from them," Saban failed to actually tell Huizenga what his plans were in the meeting that he himself requested. Instead, Saban divulged his intentions via speakerphone to his assistant coaches. When the media got wind that Saban was packing his bags, the Alabama coach was already on a plane to Tuscaloosa.
Saban received a hero's welcome in Alabama, where he proudly told a flock of energized fans, "I can’t tell you how pleased and honored I am to be your coach at the University of Alabama. The spirit and enthusiasm that has been demonstrated to myself and my family has been phenomenal since we arrived here yesterday afternoon. It certainly is appreciated."
Later in the conference, Saban reminded everyone that "it takes trust, respect for each other in what everyone’s role is, what they need to do. That’s the first thing that’s important, is for us to work together."
Whether it was in irony or not, the Associated Press used this terminology to describe his arrival to the deep south: "And it was drizzling rain on this January day when Nick Saban said the University of Alabama would be his 'last stop' in a football journey that started in the coal-filled hills of West Virginia, where his father taught him that hard work, integrity, trust and respect are the keys to success in football -- and in life."
Back in south Florida, the perception of Nick Saban was not of sadness or discontent, but of ballistic fury, loathing, and incalculable outrage. Throughout the day, fans were left to question where the integrity, trust and respect had disappeared to -- how after experiencing his first losing season, the self-righteous Saban escaped to Alabama for a big payday, all while lying his keister off.
On the day of Saban's departure, a flustered Wayne Huizenga addressed the media. Instead of recapturing the team's past glory, Saban had made the Dolphins look more frail than ever before. Huizenga, who had given his full support to Saban, appeared utterly lost at the direction of the Miami Dolphins, even going as far as to tell the in-room reporters that he was taking suggestions.
The following year, with new coach Cam Cameron, Miami suffered their worst season in franchise history: going 1-15. Bill Parcells then assumed control of the team, inserted Tony Sparano in as coach, and helped the Dolphins jump to a phenomenal 11-win turnaround in 2008. Saban, meanwhile, found immediate success in Tuscaloosa, and in 2010, he led the Crimson Tide to their first national title since 1992. With that championship, Saban became the first coach in collegiate history to win national titles with two separate schools.