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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Saban's in the house

DESTIN, Fla. - Acting like Paparazzi at a not-so-secret wedding, Southeastern Conference writers kept an eye on all the entrances and exits Tuesday on the first day of the annual spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin Beach.

"Have you seen him?"

"Is he going to come through here?"

"You go get Meyer. I'll hang out here in case he comes."

The target coach was not Florida's Urban Meyer, who just won the national championship. Rather it was new Alabama coach Nick Saban, who left the Miami Dolphins amid a wave of controversy, lies, denials and intense media criticism last January and in the process put most LSU fans in a froth of anger since he left Tigertown on Christmas Day, 2004.

"I'm so glad I don't have to talk to Nick Saban," said one Florida writer.

"But you do. You just don't know it yet," he was told.

Finally, just a few minutes before the 2 p.m. coaches meeting, Saban in a loud red golf shirt and his wife Terry strolled by - both darkly tanned, refreshed and relaxed.

Saban immediately saw LSU basketball coach John Brady and said hello with a big smile.

"How are you doing?" Brady asked.

"Oh, all right, just getting my butt kicked everywhere I turn," said a still-smiling Saban, who last week was accused by prospects in Miami of contact inconsistent with NCAA recruiting rules.

"Ah, don't let them get to you," Brady said, then asked Saban if he had met a friend of his who is in the restaurant business in Birmingham, Ala., where Brady used to coach Samford. Saban said he had and that he was a great guy.

"He gave me a case of Red Man tobacco," Saban said. "Birmingham's got a lot of great people."

A reporter asked if Saban still chews.

"Every now and then," he said. "I was chewing at the lake. We just came from there."

That's Lake Burton in north Georgia, where the Sabans have vacationed since Saban was the LSU coach.

"Oh, he spits tobacco in the water," Mrs. Saban said. "It's terrible, but he says it's good for the fish."

Then it was off to the meeting, where Saban met LSU coach Les Miles in person for the first time. Saban did only a few seconds of interviews with two reporters. Most of the folks waiting for him missed him. But Alabama scheduled a 5:30 p.m. press conference.


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