Saban tempted, but not enough to jump
ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports that in the Chicago Bears effort to land LSU head coach, Nick Saban, to fill the vacancy that has existed since the dismissal of Dick Jauron the day after the regular season ended, the Bears came up short in two significant "C" areas: Cash and control.
In the end, no matter what the Chicago Bears dangled in the way of financial and ancillary temptations, it might never have been enough to lure Nick Saban away from the comfort of Baton Rouge.
Then again, it appears that the Bears came up short in two significant "C" areas in their effort to land LSU's coach: cash and control.
Saban insisted at a Saturday evening news conference -- the purpose of which to announce he was remaining coach of the BCS champion Tigers -- that he merely explored the possibility of accepting his first NFL head coach position. But that exploration included a lengthy interview with Bears general manager and close friend Jerry Angelo on Friday night and then negotiations into Saturday afternoon.
"This was more than the flirtation Nick is making it out to be," a league source said. "He probably came closer to [accepting the Bears job] than even he realizes."
By late afternoon, though, with his sentiments leaning toward remaining on campus and the Bears not leaning his way nearly enough on some key elements, Saban told agent Jimmy Sexton to halt negotiations because he had decided to stay at LSU. Sources close to the talks said that, in the haggling inherent to such negotiations, Bears officials granted a number of concessions only grudgingly and did not budge on other key issues.
Notable among the non-financial components were questions over control of hiring the staff of assistant coaches and setting the final 53-player roster for the regular season. The two areas have become critical bargaining issues for head coaches around the league and Saban, with his past experience as an NFL defensive coordinator, clearly understood that.
Apparently the Bears ceded staffing powers to Saban but only after much negotiation. The club, though, never conceded to Saban the modest personnel control that he sought, which did not include command over the draft or any trades.
Saban did not seek general manager-type powers and probably could have worked well with Angelo, since the two have been close friends for nearly 30 years, since serving on the Syracuse University staff in the mid-1970s.
While most observers believed it would take a contract worth at least $4 million annually for Saban to legitimately consider moving to the NFL, the Bears never got close to that, with a best offer that eventually topped out in the mid-$3 million range.
As first reported early Saturday evening, Saban will sign a new contract with LSU that will be for six-to-nine seasons and worth $2.7 million to $3 million annually. That contract, which will strengthen his status as the highest paid coach in college football, should be completed within a week or so. Athletic director Skip Bertman faxed the latest LSU proposal to Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, and the two have been working off that offer ever since.
Beyond the money and football-related issues, there were obviously personal reasons why Saban chose to remain with LSU. His family has established roots in Baton Rouge and Saban will have a strong roster returning in '04, supplemented again by one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
Saban also acknowledged the problems encountered by Steve Spurrier and Butch Davis, in making the jump from the college game to the NFL, influenced his own decision.
"That makes you wonder," Saban said. "I still think Butch Davis is a very good coach and I think Steve Spurrier is a very good coach. The infrastructure around you and the things you can't control can get you in the NFL."
Last weekend, 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.
In part because of the relationship with Angelo, Saban had 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 this 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, for Thursday, was canceled by the team.
ESPN.com has learned that, on Friday, the Bears sought and were granted permission by the Pittsburgh Steelers to interview offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Such a meeting would not come until next week and will be canceled.
League sources said that Angelo might now expand his search, perhaps interviewing someone like Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger or Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that, within hours of Saban's rejection, Bears officials were on the phone with Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. One of the college game's best offensive minds particularly creative with his passing designs, Tedford had been the team's "secret" candidate, quietly interviewed by Angelo on the West Coast last week.
The Bears were prepared to fly to California on Saturday evening and offer Tedford the job, but he told Angelo he was staying at Cal for now. ESPN.com also has learned that Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has been invited back for a second interview this week.
The Bears fired coach Dick Jauron on Dec. 29, the day after the season ended, following five years and an overall record of 35-46. Chicago, which was 13-3 in 2001 when it claimed its first division title since 1990, was just 11-21 in the two years since.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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