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Monday, November 05, 2007

Fans should learn from players

BATON ROUGE - "After the 75th point was scored, the momentum had turned for the final time and four action-packed hours finally ended in bitter defeat, Alabama coach Nick Saban couldn't leave the field. Each time he'd turn away, there was one more former player to be greeted, one more old hand to shake. All the old Tigers stayed, and Saban, seemingly for the first time during Saturday's 41-34 loss to LSU, actually cracked a smile."

That was how sportswriter Gentry Estes' game story began in the Mobile Press-Register on Sunday.

"I just can't throw my feelings away for a lot of guys that I have relationships with," Saban said. "It just doesn't go away."

He actually did more than smile when he and LSU tailback Jacob Hester spoke. Saban, the defensive genius, laughed heartily after just blowing a 10-point lead in the final 16 minutes and 19 seconds, including an uncharacteristic 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Saban laughed heartily with and would later speak fondly of and wish good things for a team that handed him his first-ever loss in 14 seasons as a head coach in which his offense scored as many as 34 points. The previous high was a in a 30-25 loss to Iowa in his final game as LSU's coach in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005.

LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey gave him a big hug at midfield. Quarterback Matt Flynn put a hand on his shoulder. Defensive end Kirston Pittman hugged him. Ali Highsmith shook hands and smiled as did others. Even true freshman safety Chad Jones, whose sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson caused a fumble that provided for LSU's winning points, shook Saban's hand and Saban didn't even sign him.

All these LSU players, with the exception of Jones, looked like more than just signees of Saban. He was their coach at one time, and they were his players. And nothing can ever change that, no matter how much LSU fans hate Saban for leaving LSU and no matter how much LSU coach Les Miles seemed to hate him at times without ever having met the man in person. Never quite figured that one out because Miles should have been thanking Saban instead of cussing him. For had Saban stayed at LSU, Miles would likely still be at Oklahoma State making a lot less money and not having any chance at winning a national championship this season or perhaps in any season.

LSU's players know what Saban did for LSU even though LSU's fans want to forget it or revise it with silly statistics like the fact that Saban has only had only three seasons of fewer than three losses in his 14-year head coaching career - 1990 at Toledo, 1999 at Michigan State and 2003 at LSU. Nevermind the fact he's had exactly one losing season through all of those years and every head coaching position he has taken has been a rebuilding job. It should also be noted that the 1999 and 2003 seasons of fewer than three losses were at or near the end of his stay at those jobs, which means he accomplished the job. He actually was not bad with the Miami Dolphins either. He inherited a 4-12 team with significant salary cap issues and made it 9-7 in one year in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the NFL. He dipped to 6-10 last season, but 15-17 with a 4-12 product is not bad. Now, he may have foreseen what is happening to the 0-8 Dolphins now and hit the eject button.

Saban may make $4 million as Alabama's coach, but he inherited very little at each of his stops. With the exception of Toledo, which was 6-5 the year before he went 9-2, whatever talent he inherited had been losing. And Miami, LSU and Michigan State had been losing big time. Michigan State was also on probation. Miles, meanwhile, inherited perhaps more than any college coach in history when he walked into the new football facility at LSU in 2005. And he's doing very well with it all, but let's not canonize him just yet. He'll get his due when the time comes.

Saban is the highest paid college coach in America because Alabama thinks he will do what he did at LSU. He is the highest hated college coach in America by LSU fans because they fear that he will do what he did at LSU at a rival school that used to squash the Tigers on a regular basis.

Saban should have thanked the LSU players as well. For had they not played sloppily after taking a 17-3 lead and let Alabama back in it, the game could have been one of Saban's worst losses in his 14 years as a head coach. LSU could have taken such a big lead that Miles could have actually played ALL of HIS players.

Until next year and Saban Bowl II in Tiger Stadium.


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