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Bertman believes Atlanta is interested

ATLANTA -- If Arthur Blank wants to interview Nick Saban,
the Atlanta Falcons' owner has yet to request permission from LSU
athletic director Skip Bertman.

"No Atlanta Falcons representative has contacted me or anybody
else here at LSU," Bertman said Friday afternoon. "That's all I
can tell you right now."

Blank began searching for a new head coach after firing Dan
Reeves on Tuesday. Bertman believes the Falcons will want to talk
with Saban, whose No. 2 Tigers are preparing to play No. 3 Oklahoma
in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 4, although the school has said that it wants to keep its coach.

"Of course we do, but we can't compete financially with the
Falcons any other team in the NFL," Bertman said. "Nick has to
stay here because he wants to. Family, community, college
atmosphere -- those are the kinds of things have to be the most
important reason for him staying."

With Tampa Bay's announcement Friday that Rich McKay is free to
leave as general manager, Blank could move quickly to hire the
executive credited with building the roster that helped the
Buccaneers win a Super Bowl last season.

McKay interviewed with Blank on Feb. 15, 2002, and the two have
developed a close relationship in their work together on the NFL's
committee for workplace diversity. Even if all clubs weren't
required by the new committee guidelines to interview at least one
minority candidate, Blank likely would want to speak with Lovie
Smith, the St. Louis defensive coordinator who coached linebackers
in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000.

Blank's firing of Reeves gave the NFL its first head coaching
vacancy and allowed Atlanta to be first to interview major college
candidates like Saban.

Other Division I-A names could include Southern Cal's Pete
Carroll, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Maryland's
Ralph Friedgen, though the latter said this week that he believes
the Terrapins remain committed to building and maintaining a
championship program.

Saban, who has a 107-53-1 career record, is 38-15 at LSU,
including two Southeastern Conference titles and a 22-10 mark in
league play.

The 52-year-old Saban spent four years as defensive coordinator
under coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland. When Saban left to become
head coach at Michigan State after the 1994 season, the Browns
allowed fewer points than any team in the NFL. Cleveland was worst
in that category before he arrived in 1990.

Saban signed a new contract with LSU in February 2002 that pays
$1.6 million per year, but the deal includes a clause that
guarantees he would become college football's highest paid coach if
he wins a national title. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, another coach the
Falcons might contact, currently earns the top salary at $2.5
million.

"Nick likes it here," Bertman said. "It's a simple situation,
really. Sometimes we value money too much. Sometimes other things
are more important."