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Thursday, January 4, 2007
On Football: If coaches' lips are moving, they might be leaving

Associated Press

MIAMI -- Nick Saban will be remembered in South Florida as a first-class fibber.

Saban misled his boss, players and fans, leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama when he said he wouldn't. In the wake of his departure, Saban was excoriated in newspaper columns and on talk shows as a loser and -- almost as bad -- a liar.

Dolphins receiver Wes Welker came to his former coach's defense.

"It's one of those deals where you maybe tell the girl that she looks good when she really doesn't," Welker said. "It was kind of the same situation, where it's OK to tell that lie in order to get the results that he needed."

Welker accepts the notion that deception is part of the game -- especially when talking about job vacancies.

Coaches deny interest in switching teams, then become annoyed when their words are met with skepticism, as happened repeatedly during Alabama's courtship of Saban. Charlie Weis' credibility has been questioned as he pledges allegiance to Notre Dame amid rumors he'll jump to the NFL.

"Every coach," Weis said, "is perceived to be a liar. 'Well, Weis will say it, but we really shouldn't believe him because he's a liar.' I'm just using me as an example.

"Well, believe it or not, there are some people who aren't liars."

There are even some coaches who aren't liars. Former Dolphins coach Don Shula valued his integrity more than his NFL-record 347 victories, and he found Saban's disingenuous denials unseemly.

"He made it sound as if he wanted to be here, and he ended up in Alabama," said Shula, whose son Mike was fired by Alabama, creating the opening Saban filled. "You don't know what to believe."

In that regard, the new Crimson Tide coach is hardly alone. "Truthiness" was chosen word of the year in 2006, and that applied to football, too.

-- Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said, "I'm not a candidate for any job." The next day, word leaked out he was bound for North Carolina State.

-- Dennis Erickson, who has coached seven teams since 1982, signed a five-year contract with Idaho and said it would be his last stop. He lasted 10 months and one day before moving on to Arizona State in December.

If their lips are moving, they might be leaving. It's not a new trend.

-- In 1999, Gary Barnett went to Colorado two days after sending an e-mail to his Northwestern players promising to lead them back to the Rose Bowl.

-- In 1998, Mississippi coach Tommy Tuberville told an alumni group, "They'll have to carry me out of here in a pine box." He departed unaided a few days later for Auburn -- where he'll now coach against Saban.

-- Before the 1997 Super Bowl, Bill Parcells repeatedly denied he would leave the New England Patriots. Then he was gone, declining even to accompany the team back to Boston.

To be honest, basketball coaches lie, too. Larry Brown has been notorious for verbal misdirection during his nomadic career. Roy Williams stressed the importance of loyalty when he pledged he would never leave Kansas for North Carolina, then did just that.

But football coaches seem worse -- or better, depending on whether guile is regarded as a virtue.

Some see it as a job requirement. Aiming to deceive the opposition, coaches fudge facts about roster moves, lineup changes and injuries. Former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis, an equivocator extraordinaire, once said his quarterback's leg had "a teeny, tiny crack" -- in other words, it was broken.

The tendency toward prevarication spills over into talk about career moves.

"Lies are like cockroaches," Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope wrote for Thursday's paper. "Where there is one, there is always another, and another. Football head coaches will climb a tree to tell a lie. These are truths we see more clearly with the tail wind of Saban's jet whistling 'round our heads."

Ah, Saban. He perennially flirted with other teams when he coached at Michigan State and Louisiana State, and now, spurned Dolphins fans would nominate him for the Falsification Hall of Fame.

He preached loyalty and perseverance, then quit after going 15-17 in two seasons. To compound the crime, he told his players and owner Wayne Huizenga he was staying in Miami, and said two weeks ago, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

Do Dolphins players feel betrayed?

"Some things you've got to keep to yourself with those type of questions," cornerback Travis Daniels said. "At the end of the day, it's a business."

And that's the truth.

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Associated Press National Writer Nancy Armour in Chicago, AP Football Writer Dave Goldberg in New York, and AP Sports Writers Andrew Bagnato in Phoenix, Gregg Bell in Seattle, Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., Dan Gelston in Philadelphia, Jimmy Golen in Boston, Larry Lage in Detroit, Tom Withers in Cleveland and John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.