Davis, Erickson may be on wish list

Originally Published: December 25, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Nick Saban took the sleeping giant at LSU and shook it awake, installing an aggressive defense and building the figurative fence around the border of the state. Saban kept at home the kind of talent that had won national acclaim, if not national championships, at other schools. Warrick Dunn and Travis Minor at Florida State; Marshall Faulk at San Diego State, Kordell Stewart at Colorado -- the list went on for years, and then it stopped.

Saban has gone 48-15 in five seasons in Baton Rouge. After failing to win the Big Ten in five seasons at Michigan State, Saban wanted a job coaching at the No. 1 school in a state. It took him two seasons to win a Southeastern Conference title and four to win the Tigers' first national title since 1958.

Saban made realistic what coaches had been saying for years, that LSU had everything necessary to win college football games. His replacement will have all those tools at his disposal, too. But the new coach will also have to deal with a public that believes their team should contend for a national championship every year.

The SEC coaches gossip wire crackled this fall when LSU began the season 3-2. Saban supposedly didn't like the short memory of fans who questioned his stewardship. That led to speculation that Saban would leave for the NFL, but what hasn't led to that the last few years? Saban's name has been linked to every NFL opening since the death of Vince Lombardi.

He has turned them all down, but the Miami Dolphins' job made him look longer. In an era when the door is closing on giving a coach complete control of the front office -- witness the lack of success of Mike Holmgren at Seattle and Butch Davis at Cleveland -- Saban got just such an offer. If he wanted to go to the NFL, Saban wouldn't get any better offer than Miami delivered.

So now LSU is in the job market, looking for someone who is more Nick Saban than Curley Hallman. The school wants someone whose knees won't shake under public scrutiny.

"Being a head coach in the SEC is a two-hands-on-the-wheel job," said Dan Radakovich, the No. 2 official in the LSU athletic department. "You play in front of relatively huge stadiums and passionate people week in and week out. This job is going to require someone to have a great deal of focus and a great deal of commitment to the program. That's what made Nick so successful."

The top two names mentioned are the last two head coaches at the University of Miami: Davis and Dennis Erickson, the embattled 49ers coach who won two national championships with the Hurricanes. Davis did a nice Moses imitation, getting Miami to the Promised Land but leaving before the Hurricanes cashed in for the 2001 championship.

Ironically, LSU and Davis flirted with one another five years ago. He stayed at Miami, and LSU turned to Saban.

When Davis resigned from the Browns earlier this season, he said he would not take a job this year, that he wanted to sit out a season to recuperate from the NFL grind. The lure of the LSU job will test his commitment to relax.

Erickson won at Washington State (a have-not), at Miami (have), at Oregon State (have-not), so it's time for this coaching lifer to go back to a have. LSU would be one heck of a life preserver for a coach going down with a sinking ship in San Francisco.

Two other names to consider at LSU are Oklahoma State coach Les Miles, who, like Saban at Michigan State, has won a lot but is stuck in the same state as a national power; and Tigers offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who would like to take over for his boss. LSU, as Radakovich said, is looking for someone with head-coaching experience.

However, Fisher offers continuity for a winning program.

If LSU doesn't hire him, Fisher may have the opportunity to go to the Dolphins. If not, he may wind up at Clemson, where Tommy Bowden fired offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain earlier this month.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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