Saban only lied when his lips were moving

Updated: January 4, 2007, 3:10 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- With Nick Saban en route to a coronation in Tuscaloosa, it's officially time to change the vocabulary used to describe college coaches.

"Integrity" is out. "Character" is out. "Teacher" is out. "Leader of men" is out.

Don Shula's take
Miami Dolphins legendary coach Don Shula told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike that he wasn't too thrilled about the way Alabama dismissed his son as coach -- or the way Nick Saban left the Dolphins. ListenInsider

And that's not all. Shula told the Miami Herald:

• That Saban let the Dolphins down: "He has run away from the challenge."

• That Saban lied: "It's unbelievable. There were four or five direct statements that were blatant lies. That tells you a little bit about the guy."

• That Saban quit: "That's obvious. He quit. He left."

• That Saban is a fraud: "What other conclusion can you draw? The guy likes to hear himself talk and then doesn't follow up on what he says."

"Liar" is in.

They're not going to tell the truth to us, but we can tell the truth about them. It's this: They'll say anything to get recruits on campus, and they'll say anything to get media members off their backs when angling for a different job. And the panting attempts by school administrators, fans, other coaches and many media members to portray them as men of superior moral fiber needs to stop.

They're coaches, that's all. That makes them part of a pack of lying liars who only lie when their lips are moving -- and Saban's lips have moved most recently.

The Miami Dolphins coach denied being interested in or a candidate for the job at Alabama so many times we all lost count. But we weren't naive enough to believe him -- and Wednesday proved why. He's fundamentally unbelievable.

So it's time to rename the American Football Coaches Association the Liar's Club. I understand that I'm tarring a lot of good men -- and even a few honest ones -- with a broad brush, but that's Saban's gift to his profession.

Of course, he's simply following a proud tradition of dissembling coaches.

Butch Davis wasn't leaving the Miami Hurricanes for the Cleveland Browns -- until he did.

Nick Saban
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireNick Saban was 15-17 in two seasons as the Dolphins' head coach.

Tommy Tuberville told Mississippi fans the only way he'd leave the school was "in a pine box" -- before leaving for Auburn days later.

Louisville's Bobby Petrino denied a meeting with Auburn that had indeed taken place. The next year he signed a contract extension and said, "This is the place I want to be." He interviewed with LSU within a week of that statement.

Dennis Franchione convinced his players to stay at Alabama after enduring NCAA sanctions -- then fled himself for Texas A&M after two years on the job.

Saban is the latest and perhaps greatest example, if only because he took such umbrage at being asked about the Alabama job that he wasn't interested in (until he was). It required an impressive reservoir of gall to refute angrily questions designed to learn the truth, as if they were unfair attacks on the coach's piety.

Last week Saban said, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

This week, when the topic didn't go away -- because, clearly, it shouldn't have -- he got snippy.

"I'm not talking about any of that stuff," he said. "And I'd appreciate the courtesy of it not being asked."

If you could put a subtitle on that it would read: "My gosh, people, I'm trying to avoid the subject. How dare you not play along with me? Just because I've been lying my eyeballs out, I won't let you paint me into a corner. So it's time to make you all look like jerks for badgering me. Bad manners, all of you!"

The thing is, we've seen it so often that we've become almost immune to this bizarre mating dance of obfuscation and denial. Colleges won't say which coaches they're after, and coaches won't admit to being interested. Universities like using the Latin word "veritas" in mottos and such, but they aren't wedded to the word when it comes to pursuing athletic coaches.

Urban Meyer's advice
Florida coach Urban Meyer was among those who noticed that Saban took a job after telling South Florida reporters he would not.

"I learned my lesson at Bowling Green," Meyer said. "I was offered a job and I turned it down. I was all set. They went like this and stuck a microphone in my face and said, 'Are you going to take the job?' And I said, 'No. I'm not going to take the job.' And then a few days later I got the phone call from Utah. So everyone was all [ticked] and all that. What's the best way to handle it? Now that you're older? It's 'No comment.' That's always the best way to handle it. Because I heard coach Saban say there's no way he's going to be the coach at Alabama."

-- Joe Schad

Obviously, telling the truth potentially can create some sticky situations. But this would be my suggested sample comment for a coach being sought for a job other than the one he now has:

"Although I love the position I currently hold, I am a candidate for job X. I will not discuss it further until there is something tangible, be it an interview or an offer, to discuss. Goodbye."

It beats rampant, jaded dishonesty. Especially from college coaches who love to talk about all the valuable life lessons they're imparting to America's impressionable young rush ends, blindside tackles and cover corners.

The real job description at most places isn't terribly heavy on life lessons. It goes roughly like this: Must win, must win some more, must beat archrival, must recruit like a maniac, must put fannies in seats. The secondary clause: Must not get caught committing NCAA violations, must try to avoid a complete and obvious subversion of the university's academic principles.

Winning games is why Alabama wanted Nick Saban, and winning games is why Nick Saban wanted to go back to college coaching. That's as far as the "great fit" goes. You'll probably hear a lot about how Saban loves college towns and college life and coaching young guys, but this is why he wanted to go back to campus: His record at LSU was 48-16, and his record at Miami was 15-17.

Don't look a single step beyond that. Because if you do, you'll see Alabama's contribution to the higher education mission: a reported $32 million contract for a football coach who spent the last month-plus lying like a rug about having any interest in coming to their school.

Yet they won't be able to introduce Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa simply as the best winner money can buy. The hyperbole will go far beyond that, until he is inevitably hailed as a "man of great character."

I'll simply hail him as the richest member of the Liar's Club.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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