Saban may take some time to make decision

Originally Published: December 22, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

One year after LSU coach Nick Saban began considering the Miami Dolphins as a franchise with which he might someday return to the NFL, Saban has the opportunity to turn intrigue into employment, ESPN.com has learned.

Saban was formally offered the Dolphins job on Wednesday, but contrary to some reports he has not yet accepted. ESPN.com has confirmed Saban would spend at least Wednesday evening and perhaps even a few more days considering the proposal and discussing it with family members.

Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton spent much of Wednesday meeting in Miami with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga discussing contract parameters. The two made what one source termed "significant progress" toward a deal, but an agreement was not reached. Some details still need to be agreed upon.

Huizenga confirmed in a one-sentence statement Thursday that an offer was made.

Financial details of Miami's offer are not known. But the contract would provide Saban, if he accepts, near-absolute control over football-related decisions and allow him to help reshape the organization following its disastrous 2004 season. Sexton was to review the contract with Saban on Wednesday night.

The Dolphins will hire a new team president to replace the much-respected Eddie Jones, who will retire in March, and hiring Saban might also end the tenure of general manager Rick Spielman, who has been a part of the search for Dave Wannstedt's successor. It is anticipated that Saban would want to bring aboard his own general manager or personnel director to head the scouting department.

One of the deal-breakers 11 months ago, when Saban rejected an offer to become coach of the Chicago Bears, was he was not offered control over some staffing and personnel matters. Confidants of Saban have reiterated to ESPN.com that control, particularly in terms of acquiring players, was a more critical issue to him than finances.

Saban began taking a hard look at the Dolphins a year ago, when it appeared Wannstedt's job was in jeopardy following a second season of missing the playoffs. A candidate for several NFL jobs since leaving the league to become coach at Michigan State in 1994, Saban has always indicated he would return to the NFL only under optimum conditions.

Part of his attraction to the job was that Huizenga is regarded as an owner who does not meddle in football matters, who essentially gets out of the way and lets his coach do his job. The other intriguing element for Saban is the opportunity to rebuild an organization to his own specifications.

The Dolphins first huddled with Saban on Dec. 14, in a late-night meeting, and it was clear from the outset that he topped Miami's wish list. Teams officials also interviewed former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell, currently a league vice president, and interim coach Jim Bates for the position. But there was never any doubt Saban was their man if a deal could be reached.

Saban, 53, has enjoyed great success at LSU, and leaving the program would be a difficult decision for him. As late as Tuesday morning, even before he had the Dolphins' offer in hand, he told athletic director Skip Bertman that he probably faced a tough call and praised the school for its commitment to him and his family. After rebuffing the Bears' advances, Saban signed a new seven-year contract, making him the highest-paid college football coach in the country.

When Saban told LSU athletic director Skip Bertman of the offer, he did not divulge details of the deal or indicate if he planned to accept.

"My feeling is it's 50-50," Bertman said.

The Tigers won the national championship in 2003; in five seasons in Baton Rouge he was 48-15. LSU won its final six games this season to finish 9-2 and will face Iowa in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

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

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

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.