Saban embraces expectations

Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban couldn't escape his college roots, so he quit trying.

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The Associated Press

Saban was introduced as Alabama's coach on Thursday, touting his championship aspirations and citing his love of college football as a reason for taking a pay cut to leave the Miami Dolphins.

In other words, he said the things Crimson Tide fans most wanted to hear.

"My heart's here. I love it here," he said. "I like to affect people, and that's why I'm here. This is obviously one of the best places in the country to have an opportunity to do that."

Taking over a program with a rich tradition led by the late coach Bear Bryant, who won five national titles, Saban refused to dwell in the past.

"It's what you do now," he said.

His resume features the one thing Alabama fans hunger for most: A national title. His "championship credentials" — as athletic director Mal Moore put it — are why the Tide was willing to offer a reported eight-year deal worth an estimated $32 million plus incentives, the richest in college football.

"I know there's tremendous expectations here," Saban said. "I can tell you that, however you feel about it, I have even higher expectations for what we want to accomplish. I want to win every game we play."

Saban led Alabama divisional rival LSU to a national title in 2003 and two SEC championships before heading to Miami.

Alabama hasn't won the league or even the Western Division since 1999 under Mike DuBose. The Tide's latest national title — its sixth — came in 1992 under Gene Stallings. Alabama has had four losing seasons since '97.

"His teams always play with confidence and pride and I know that in order to win a national championship, a team has to be mentally as well as physically tough," said Moore, who played and coached under Bryant. "Coach Saban's teams have always possessed those qualities."

As for the big salary, Moore said, "I just think it was a very crucial hire for us in this time in our history."

Not everyone in Alabama was convinced.

"That certainly makes a strong statement in a state that funds education at one of the lowest per-pupil rates of any state in the country," said state Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, chairman of a House committee that writes the education budget. "I think we've let it get out of hand."

But the school's faculty senate president, chemistry professor John Vincent, had a more positive view.

"The money doesn't come out of the academic side of the university. The academic side is self sufficient," he said. "Of course I would like to see these kinds of benefits available on the academic side, but this hiring offers much to the university."

Vincent said having a high-profile coach like Saban would create more interest in the University of Alabama, which would bring more interest and money to the academic side.

Saban said his first goals were to hire a coaching staff and work on completing the Tide's recruiting class. He has already hired Florida State assistant Kevin Steele to be his defensive coordinator according to Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden.

His success attracting top prep players is still evident. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, receiver Early Doucet and safety LaRon Landry — who all played key roles in LSU's 41-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday night — were among players he brought to Baton Rouge.

Saban's wife, Terry, encouraged the move to Tuscaloosa and another college job.

"It's the relationships, that family feeling, that we missed," she said.

And the warm reception on Wednesday afternoon didn't hurt, either. Saban said when he arrived at LSU from Michigan State as a less well-known coach, it was just him, an equipment manager and his agent.

Not this time.

"When the plane landed, we were overwhelmed that there was this huge crowd of people just cheering, like your mother's saying, 'Come on home,"' Terry Saban said.

The well-traveled Saban also said he intends for this to be his final coaching stop before retiring to Lake Burton in north Georgia, where he has a home.

"That's where I like it, and that's my next stop," the 55-year-old Saban said.

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