Saban welcomed by Tide fans

Saban welcomed by Tide fans

Hours after Nick Saban left the NFL for Alabama, he got a dose of just what he likes about college football.

Hundreds of screaming Alabama fans greeted him at the airport, chanting "Roll Tide" as his plane landed. He got hugs, handshakes and back pats.

"There is a great spirit and sense of community that you get in college football because of people's ties to the school," Saban said during a November interview in which he weighed the merits of the college and pro football.

The now-former Miami Dolphins' coach certainly felt that rah-rah spirit Wednesday, soon after accepting a deal reportedly worth at least $30 million over eight years, the most lucrative in college football.

The expectations won't be far behind - Tide fans want a national title winner like the one Saban built when he was at SEC West rival LSU. He was expected to be introduced at a news conference Thursday morning.

The hiring provided a dramatic conclusion to a five-week search to replace the fired Mike Shula.

"When I set out on this search, I noted that I was seeking a coach who has a proven record of championship success and achievement," Crimson Tide athletic director Mal Moore said.

"Coach Saban brings that proven record of accomplishment and leadership to our program."

The Tuscaloosa News put out a special edition trumpeting the hiring, with the blaring headline: "SABAN TIME."

"Mal Moore didn't just hit a home run, he hit a grand slam," raved Tide fan Mike Ryan, sporting a Bear Bryant-style houndstooth

hat and a T-shirt listing the program's national championship years. He was among the fans greeting Saban and his wife, Terry, and daughter, Kristen.

The shirt said everything about Alabama's expectations for Saban, whose LSU Tigers won a share of the 2003 national title. He has a record of 91-42-1 as a college coach at LSU, Michigan State and Toledo, and was 15-17 at Miami.

Saban is the most high-profile coach the Tide has hired since Bryant's retirement after the 1982 season, a steady stream that has included such names as Bill Curry, Shula and Mike DuBose.

Neither Shula nor DuBose - both former Tide players - had ever been a head coach.

"The last few hires were somewhat unknown going back to Mike DuBose," said Lee Roy Jordan, a former 'Bama and NFL star. "We knew him as a player at Alabama and as an assistant coach but he never had any experience when he got the job.

"We feel like we got a proven coach that can win an SEC and national title. That's the No. 1 thing for me."

The Tide first approached Saban shortly after firing Shula on Nov. 27. After Saban turned down the job in early December, the university offered it to Rich Rodriguez, who decided to stay at West Virginia.

Saban punctuated weeks of denials with this declaration two weeks ago: "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."

He clearly had a change of heart, leaving Miami with three years remaining on his contract at $4.5 million a year.

Alabama lost to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7, the team's second losing season in the four years since Shula's hiring. Now, the Tide has its fourth head coach since 2000 - and eighth since Bryant's last season in 1982.

The timing was significant since the NCAA's recruiting "dead period" ends Friday.

"We have been through a period of uncertainty the last month or so and we finally have some stability," Tide center Antoine Caldwell said. "Coach Moore said all along he was going to find us a proven coach with a winning record and he has done that with Coach Saban.

"I feel like he is the right man for the job and he will be good in getting Alabama back on track."

Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson believes Saban can win quickly with the team Shula left behind.

"He has won a lot of football games and he won the national championship at LSU," Wilson said. "That makes it even more exciting for us.

"We have a lot of guys coming back on offense and I think we have an excellent chance to make a run at it, especially with Coach Saban."