NFL teams interested in Saban

Originally Published: January 5, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

No sooner will LSU coach Nick Saban get off the wild ride of preparing for -- and winning -- the BCS national championship than he figures to become a wild card in several of the NFL's seven coaching searches.

Within a few days, Saban will be contacted by officials from some of the seven teams and almost certainly will be at or near the top of the wish list of likely several of them.

Despite the recent pronouncements of Saban and his wife, both of whom have steadfastly maintained the family is not leaving Baton Rouge, there might be some jobs that pique his interest. Whether he remains at LSU as the highest paid coach in the country, or heeds the lure of the NFL, will come down to several factors.

Compensation, not surprisingly, will be a factor. But to pry Saban from Baton Rouge, it will take more than merely a $4 million-per-year paycheck, sources close to him contend. Having worked in the NFL already, most notably as defensive coordinator in Cleveland on Bill Belichick's staff there, Saban is well-versed in the internecine workings of the pro game and wary of its inherent politics.

He will certainly want more input into personnel, although perhaps not full control, than some franchises will be prepared to cede him. Talent level, front-office structure, overall atmosphere and a chance to win all will be factors, too.

With a national title on his resume, a well-stocked roster, another strong recruiting class on the way, and a new contract proposal sitting on his desk, Saban certainly doesn't need to go anywhere to fulfill himself. But there are NFL situations which will at least garner his interest, merit his consideration, and surely tempt him as well.

Just as obvious, there will be teams tempted by Saban, who possesses most qualities a franchise would want. His name has cachet, he has risen in national prominence, and he has a working knowledge of the league. He's a guy with a track record of success, but one who won't require the kind of painful apprenticeship Steve Spurrier suffered in making the jump from the college campus to the NFL crucible.

Atlanta and Chicago likely will try to gauge Saban's interest sometime this week. There is no reason to delay, now that the Sugar Bowl is over, and coaching searches will be ramped up everywhere this week. By all accounts, according to sources close to Saban, he prefers an expeditious resolution to his short-term future, too.

In Chicago, he has a ready ally in Bears general manager and close friend Jerry Angelo, and it has been strongly suggested by league sources that Saban is the man the franchise covets. There have been rumors for more than a year linking Saban to the Bears job. He rejected an offer to take over the Giants in 1993, his name surfaces every time that job is open, and New York officials probably will flirt with him again this week.

Contrary to reports, Falcons owner Arthur Blank did not interview Saban when LSU played the SEC championship game in Atlanta early last month. In fact, for Atlanta to even interview Saban, new general manager Rich McKay will have to do a bit of a sell job on Blank, and convince him Saban ought to be strongly considered.

Blank is big on the art of consensus building and hasn't been around the league long enough to understand that the goal is to hire the best coach for your franchise. The fact is, one of Saban's private concerns about the Falcons job is that there still may be, even with the arrival of the highly-respected McKay, too many chefs stirring the stew.

Saban's week will be an interesting one. His phone, and that of agent Jimmy Sexton, will start ringing regularly.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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