ENGSTER: Saban says Dolphins will be dominant

Former LSU football coach Nick Saban continues to be a headline machine in his new job. The Miami Dolphins boss was featured in the May 4 edition of the New York Times. Some Saban quotes were enlightening.

"I was really happy at LSU, and I had pretty much decided I was going to stay as a college football coach. But that changed when we won the national championship in 2003. I thought trying to do it again would be a challenge, and though it was extremely difficult, it wasn't the same. The challenge of going to the NFL seemed to be something I was looking for."


As for the expectations for Dolphins' fans, Saban downplays the George Allen motto of "the future is now." The 53-year-old rookie NFL coach sounds as though he anticipates some rough patches in Miami.


"Our fans should expect a dominant organization and team, long-term, that will be a consistent winner," Saban says. "What I'd rather see our fans expect this year is that we have an overachieving team. A team that plays hard, gives effort, competes like mad dogs out there. If we can do that, we'll win every game we're supposed to win, we'll win a few that we're not, and maybe if we're fortunate with injuries, we can get into the playoffs."

Don James, Saban's college mentor at Kent State is quoted in the story, as well. "It's no surprise to me Nick has done so well as a coach. As a player, he was as competitive as they come," noted James. "He played with Jack Lambert, and both of those guys were intense. Nick was a cornerback, but he wanted to know what every player on the field did, so you could already see the makings of a coach."


The piece concludes by mentioning Saban's humble roots in West Virginia where his dad ran Saban's Service Station and Saban's Dairy Queen. Nick could probably buy his entire hometown with a$22.5 million deal over five years with the Dolphins.


He takes over a franchise that has not won a Super Bowl in 31 years, but Miami does have the best NFL record since 1970 (338-196). Last year, the Dolphins went 4-12, the worst mark for the franchise since 1969 when Miami's coach was George Wilson and one of his players was Doug Moreau.



Saints owner Tom Benson has enjoyed far less success on the field as owners of the Miami Dolphins have savored, but Benson remains one of the shrewdest horse traders in the business. He has rejected an offer from Gov. Kathleen Blanco to renegotiate a deal with the state of Louisiana. Benson says he'll talk when the 2005 season ends.


Benson and Blanco both appealed to higher powers during the negotiations. When the Saints made their announcement to nix Blanco's last offer, the club made sure the owner was tucked away at a religious retreat. Presumably, Benson was communing with spiritual advisers rather than appealing to his minions to drive a hard bargain in his absence.


Blanco responded by saying she was disappointed that Benson had not responded to her "humanitarian" requests. Benson now has the option of paying the state $81 million and departing Louisiana for Los Angeles at season's end.


The smart money says Benson will swallow his pride and accept some renegotiation overtures from Gov. Blanco. But right now, the Saints hold the superior hand. Benson has the team and is making money. And he will continue to count his profits whether the club plays in New Orleans, Los Angeles or San Antonio.


Benson is nearing octogenarian status, so his negotiations are largely directed on behalf of his heirs. He wants a new stadium and is resistant to paying more than $17.5 million to refurbish the Louisiana Superdome, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer. Gov. Blanco wants Benson to fork over $40 million for dome renovations.


Supporters of the governor have noted correctly that there is little sentiment to pay $15 million a year to the Saints outside of the delegation based in New Orleans. If Benson wants to shake up the Louisiana Legislature, he could offer to move the team to Lafayette in exchange for a helping hand from members of the House and Senate.


Think about it. Lafayette is the fastest growing city in the state. It is accessible to north Louisiana by Interstate 49, only three hours from Shreveport. The Hub city is close to Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles and has no college superpower on the gridiron.


With nearly 200,000 residents living in Lafayette Parish, the city and area are already bigger than Green Bay, Wis. and growing. The guess is that Benson could coax the Louisiana Legislature into building him a new stadium if he pushed to move his team from New Orleans to Lafayette.


Benson should feel quite at home in the most conservative city in the state. Lafayette generally votes Republican, and Benson was a huge contributor to the inaugural festivities of President Bush. Lafayette is also situated between Benson's dual homes in New Orleans and San Antonio.


It's clearly a no brainer. The Louisiana Saints should be based in Lafayette. Benson should heed the advice that Horace Greeley dispensed in the 19th Century. "Go west, young man."


In Benson's case, Greeley was half right.




Jim Engster is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag, plus the general manager of WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge where he serves as the host of the "The Jim Engster Show," a daily talk show in the capital city. Jim can be reached by e-mail at jim@wrkf.org.

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