Saban embraces 'Bama's high expectations

Saban embraces 'Bama's high expectations

Embracing the championship expectations and a return to college football, Nick Saban was introduced as Alabama's coach on Thursday a day after getting a festive introduction to Crimson Tide fans.

"I know there's tremendous expectations here," Saban said at a news conference. "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."

Hundreds of screaming Alabama fans greeted him at the airport a day earlier, chanting "Roll Tide" as his plane landed. He got hugs, handshakes and back pats - and, reportedly, an eight-year deal worth at least $30 million, the most lucrative in college football.

He said he knew "that my heart was to go back to college," but that he felt like he left the Miami Dolphins' franchise in better shape than he found it two years ago despite a 15-17 record.

"What I realized in the last two years is that we love college coaching because of the ability that it gives you to affect people, young people," he said, as wife Terry and daughter Kristen looked on.

"If I knew that my heart was somplace else in what I wanted to do," he added, "I don't think it would be fair to the organization if I stayed."

He takes the reins of a program with always high expectations and fans who crave a national title winner like the one Saban built when he was at SEC West rival LSU.

"This is a great moment for the University of Alabama," athletic director Mal Moore said, touting Saban's "championship credentials."

The well-traveled Saban said his next stop would not be another school but retirement to Lake Burton in north Georgia, where he has a home.

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

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

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

"Mal Moore didn't just hit a home run, he hit a grand slam," raved Tide fan Mike Ryan, sporting a Bryant-style houndstooth hat and a T-shirt listing the program's national championship years.

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."