FEINSWOG: Close the book on Saban

There is more than just a touch of irony that on the last play of Nick Saban's tenure at LSU his team lost the game because of a breakdown in the area in which the former college coach specializes, the defensive backfield.

A relatively boring game came down to an exciting finish that thrilled Iowa, stunned LSU and – in the end – really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things.


Not with Saban leaving and a new coach coming in and all that it is LSU football in a state of limbo.


LSU's 30-25 defeat in the Capital One Bowl marked the end of two significant events: Saban's five-year run in Baton Rouge and those incessant commercials asking you what's in your wallet?


Not nearly as much money as a head college football coach, that's for sure.


At this writing, Sunday morning, the job appears to be going to Les Miles, the coach at Oklahoma State. He will double his salary, evidently, and take over a program with a lot of upside.


At the very worst, he goes into 2005 with at least one quarterback with experience in JaMarcus Russell, who showed once again Saturday he can play on the big-time level.


Russell, however, must learn to be more than a tremendous athlete who can pass. To wit: The first and goal situtation before LSU's final score when Russell inexplicably threw the ball into the ground and stopped the clock.


At that very moment I couldn't have been the only one watching who remarked that it was not only a bad move, but could allow Iowa too much time to score if LSU went ahead.


And then there was the breakdown on the last play. Things move fast in those situations. It's loud. Your mind races and your heart pounds. But simply put, LSU should have been better for those few seconds.


That was the difference between winning and losing a season in which a fine line defined things for LSU.


It was the case in victories over Oregon State and Troy and it was never more evident than in the one-point defeat to Auburn in which LSU missed an extra point and Auburn got one it shouldn't have.


In most cases during his five years, Saban walked that fine line as good as anyone ever has, especially last year when LSU did everything right, had almost everything go its way, and took home a national-championship trophy.


This season, you could argue that Saban and staff did its best coaching job ever, considering the losses to the NFL and injuries and uncertainty at quarterback.


And let me say this about Saban: He took LSU to new heights, doing so a year after I figured he would be long gone. The day of the news conference when he was introduced to LSU, on Nov. 30, 1999, I wrote in my notebook, "Nov. 30, 2002 – Nick Saban announced today that he will leave LSU for (insert NFL team here)."


For those extra two years, LSU got a national title and a 9-3 season that, with a couple of breaks, could have been right up there in the top three in the program's history.


Some people said Saban wasn't media friendly. I say he was media smart, the ultimate control guy who used us to get his messages out to players and fans.


Some were upset that his announcement to go to Miami came in Orlando instead of Baton Rouge. That was a doubly smart move, because it not only allowed his "new" Florida media to cover the event, but also gave him time to visit with his LSU players, tell them first, and get to work on the bowl. Think about how many guys over the years have left their college teams for a new one and not even told their kids in person they're leaving?


But just like the Louisiana media being old news to Saban, he's now old news to us.


He has a tough job ahead, but at $5 million per, he'll gut it out.


Meanwhile, back on the home front, a new coach awaits to write a new chapter in the book that is LSU football.

LSU fans can only hope the story is as good as the past five years.




Lee Feinswog is the author of "Tales From The LSU Sidelines," a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com.

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