Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Updated: December 16, 12:31 PM ET
Saban talked to Bears last season

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

The on-again-off-again mating dance between the Miami Dolphins and LSU coach Nick Saban is on again.

 Nick Saban
Saban

Saban and club officials, including Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, met for several hours Tuesday night in Dallas at an undisclosed location. While the Dolphins did not offer Saban the job, they made clear in precise terms that he is their No. 1 target.

In a statement issued by LSU on Wedensday, Saban described the talks as "a preliminary conversation with the Dolphins to exchange ideas about their head coaching position."

"No decisions were made in this meeting and they will continue their search for a coach," Saban said. "I will continue to be committed to LSU, our football program and totally focused on our bowl game versus Iowa."

Discussions are expected to continue over the next few days as Saban wrestles with the question of moving back to the NFL, where he hasn't coached since the end of the 1994 season, or retaining one of college football's top jobs. It figures be a difficult decision for Saban, who has been treated extremely well by LSU officials, and who thoroughly enjoys his job there.

It was uncertain for a while if the Tuesday session would take place, given that a similar meeting had been scheduled for earlier in the week and then was canceled when Saban experienced a change of heart.

Saban notified LSU in writing about the meeting with the Dolphins, said athletics director Skip Bertman. Bertman said Saban "has been forthright in his communication with the university about this and I support him in any direction that he may take."

"We are all aware that other NFL teams have made overtures to him in the past and he hasn't expressed any interest," Bertman said. "But this is one of the premier jobs in the NFL and he owes it to his family and their future to hear what the Dolphins have to say."

The Dolphins have acknowledged that they will comply with NFL guidelines for filling the position, which includes interviewing minority candidates.

Saban is intrigued enough to consider, for the second year in a row, a return to the NFL, a league he left following the 1994 season to become head coach at Michigan State. Saban, who was interviewed by Chicago Bears officials following the 2003 campaign, certainly could have had the position if he wanted it, but withdrew from consideration without much deliberation.

Saban subsequently signed a seven-year contract extension at LSU, one that made him the highest paid coach in the college ranks. The deal, a source said, does not include a buyout that would force him to pay LSU an exorbitant sum. Given the ticklish nature of his latest NFL flirtation, with recruiting in full swing, Saban is apt to seek privacy once again as the negotiations play out.

It remains a long shot that Saban will depart LSU for the pro game. But the Miami situation is one that Saban has been monitoring for a year, ever since rumors swirled last season that then-Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt might be replaced. Part of the appeal of the Dolphins job is that Huizenga is regarded as an owner who does not meddle in the football operations of his franchise; he gets out of the way and permits his coach to do his job.

Another key element: Miami figures to reshape its entire operation, and Saban would not only play a role in helping design the new blueprint, but also would have significant sway in all football-related matters. Such control would probably be the only way the Dolphins could secure such a high-profile coach.

One of the reasons Saban walked away from the Bears' opening less than a year ago was because he wouldn't have had control over the roster and personnel moves.

Saban, 53, has enjoyed great success at LSU, and leaving the school would be a difficult decision for him. His team won the national championship in 2003 and, in five seasons in Baton Rouge, he has compiled a 48-15 mark. The Tigers, who won their final six games this season to finish 9-2, will face the University of Iowa in the Capital One Bowl at Orlando on New Year's Day.

Asked if he expected to coach the Tigers in the bowl game, Saban said, "Absolutely. I'm committed to being the coach here. I'm happy being the coach here."

But Saban acknowledged that opportunities must be weighed.

"I have a great commitment to LSU, a great love for this institution, all that we've been able to accomplish here and the great support that so many people have given us," Saban said Wednesday night after LSU's first bowl game practice. "But I also have a responsibility and an obligation to be able to think through some things at a very busy time of year."

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

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

It is believed that Huizenga also interviewed a candidate for the team presidency while in Dallas. Current team president Eddie Jones will retire in March.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.