But Saban still the favorite to get job offer

Updated: December 21, 2004, 1:37 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

It remains a doubly difficult task for Miami Dolphins interim head coach Jim Bates.

But Monday night's 29-28 victory over heavily favored New England Patriots makes Tuesday's task less daunting. Still, against similarly long odds, the veteran assistant coach will try to win the hearts of Miami ownership and management. Bates will formally interview Tuesday afternoon for the job he has held on an interim bases for the past month, ESPN.com has confirmed.

Bates takes a 2-3 record into his sitdown with owner Wayne Huizenga. And several Dolphins veterans have publicly lobbied for Huizenga to remove the "interim" prefix from his title and reward him the job full-time.

But that is not likely to occur, as LSU coach Nick Saban remains the overwhelming favorite to replace Dave Wannstedt, who left the team last month. Bates is a coach who is always meticulously prepared, however, so he almost certainly will make a positive impression in the interview -- even before Monday's huge win.

Dolphins officials on Monday interviewed NFL senior vice president of football operations Art Shell for several hours. A member of the Hall of Fame, Shell was the first black head coach in the modern era of the NFL, and compiled a 56-41 record as the Raiders coach 1989-94. One of the most dominant blockers in league history, Shell, 58, played 15 seasons at offensive tackle for the Raiders and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

By interviewing Shell, who has worked in the NFL office for four years, the Dolphins came into compliance with the so-called "Rooney Rule," which stipulates the hiring of a new coach must be a process, with multiple candidates, including minority candidates.

The interview with Bates is expected to be the final one before the Dolphins brass makes a decision on the coaching job. Bates, 58, is a longtime defensive coordinator, but has not been a head coach since 1985, with the San Antonio Gunslingers of the USFL.

As of Monday evening, the Dolphins had yet to make a formal offer and contract proposal to Saban, but both events could happen quickly after Bates' interview Tuesday afternoon. Team president Eddie Jones spoke with Saban's representatives briefly on Monday, but it is clear Miami will not take the next step until the interviews are completed.

Most league observers believe, however, that Saban could be named the Dolphins' new coach before the end of the week.

During a media gathering on Monday for LSU's bowl game, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day, Saban tried to avoid any talk of the job in Miami.

"I would like to discuss the bowl game and I'd like to discuss our team," Saban told reporters in Baton Rouge. "I'd like to discuss our players. They deserve that. They should be rewarded. Probably the thing that is the most distracting to me is that's not happening and [his job situation] seems to be the focus of attention, which is totally unfair to our team and our players.'"

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose name surfaces frequently as a candidate for NFL or high-profile college jobs, weighed in while talking with reporters in Iowa City.

"If he ends up being offered the [Miami] job and takes it, I won't be surprised," said Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes oppose LSU on Jan. 1. "If he ends up being offered the job and not taking it, I won't be surprised, either."

Saban, 53, will likely get near-absolute control over football matters if he accepts the Dolphins job. He has enjoyed great success at LSU, and leaving the school would be a difficult decision for him. His team won the national championship in 2003 and, in five seasons in Baton Rouge, he has compiled a 48-15 mark. The Tigers won their final six games this season to finish at 9-2.

In stints at LSU (2000-present), Michigan State (1995-99) and Toledo (1990), Saban has a record of 91-41-1.

His previous NFL experience came as secondary coach with the Houston Oilers (1988-89) and the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns (1991-94), where he worked on the staff of longtime friend Bill Belichick.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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