Saban, school working on new contract

Updated: January 10, 2004, 7:41 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Although some work remains to be done on a new contract, Nick Saban has spurned the Chicago Bears and will stay as head coach at LSU.

Saban announced that intention at a news conference Saturday evening.

"I'm very happy to be the coach here," Saban said. "We're looking forward to the challenges of making LSU a dominant program in the future."

ESPN.com has learned that the contract with LSU will be completed in the next few days. It will be for six to nine years and will be worth $2.7 million to $3 million annually.

Under his existing contract, Saban already is the highest-paid coach in college football at about $2.3 million. That contract stipulates that if Saban won the national title, he would be paid one dollar more than the previous highest-paid coach. Until the contract clause kicked in, that was Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, beaten by Saban and LSU in last Sunday's Sugar Bowl.

Saban spent much of Saturday mulling the chance to become head coach of the Bears, after meeting with team officials for several hours Friday.

"The conversation we had yesterday was really about the NFL. It was not really about being the head coach of the Chicago Bears," Saban said.

A source close to Saban said the decision to stay was "a tough one" but that Saban is very comfortable with the choice and looks forward to a long career in Baton Rouge.

"Things are a little different in the league now than when I was there," Saban said at the news conference. "After thinking about whether or not that's something I'm interested in doing right now, I'm very happy to be the coach [at LSU].

"I didn't want it to be rumor and innuendo out there. I didn't want it to affect recruiting or our players on our team. I wanted to be proactive getting the information out to everyone."

Last Sunday, Saban led the Tigers to the BCS portion of the national championship. In four seasons at LSU, he has a 39-13 record. His overall record as a college head coach is 82-39-1. Prior to accepting the LSU job in 2000, he served as head coach at Toledo in 1990 and at Michigan State 1995-99.

Counted out by the Atlanta Falcons just one day earlier, Saban was courted like coaching royalty on Friday during interviews with Bears executives.

The interview, in Baton Rouge, began early in the afternoon and lasted well into the night before adjourning.

The Bears did not formally tender Saban a job offer on Friday. But team officials, led by general manager Jerry Angelo, were said to have made it clear to Saban that the position was his if he wanted to move to the NFL. Angelo and Saban have been close friends for years, and speak frequently by phone. There has never been much doubt that the Bears would pursue the LSU coach once the Tigers finished their Sugar Bowl appearance.

On Saturday morning, Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton and Bears president Ted Phillips negotiated but could not strike a deal.

Saban, 52, has been a target of several NFL teams in recent years. Last year, he quietly interviewed for the Jacksonville Jaguars opening. A year earlier, he had informal discussions with the Tampa Bay Bucs after Tony Dungy was dismissed.

In part because of the relationship with Angelo, he has been linked to the Chicago job for more than a year now. The Bears had decided not to advance their search significantly before determining Saban's plans.

Angelo had interviewed San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora -- hired as head coach by the Falcons on Friday -- earlier in the week and met with defensive coordinators Lovie Smith of St. Louis and Romeo Crennel of New England last week. An interview with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, originally scheduled for Thursday, was canceled by the team.

ESPN.com also learned that the Bears sought and were granted permission Friday by the Pittsburgh Steelers to interview offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Such a meeting will not come until next week.

Evidently, the Bears will not interview Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, according to league sources.

The Bears fired coach Dick Jauron on Dec. 29, the day after the season ended, following five seasons and an overall record of 35-46. The Bears, who were 13-3 in 2001 when they claimed their first division title since 1990, were just 11-21 in the following two seasons.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.