MULE': Saban to get re-acquainted with LSU

Here's the question of the week: Whose pride would be the most wounded, Les Miles going 0-1 against Nick Saban, or Saban falling to 0-2 against LSU?

We may know in a few days, in the aftermath of the game cleverly dubbed "The Saban Bowl."

It's the football get-together Tiger and Tide fans have had circled since early January, when the former LSU coach agreed to coach Alabama, the Bayou Bengals' SEC rival.

Oooooooh, the extreme sense of betrayal visited upon Louisiana with that little meeting of the minds. South Florida, too, considering the then-floundering coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins kept saying he hadn't talked to anyone (meaning his agent was doing the negotiating) and that he wasn't going anywhere.

So what can you say? That Nick Saban is not trust-worthy? He's dishonest?

And how would that make him markedly different from other coaches, many of whom which will say and do almost anything to gain any kind of edge? One of the most famous refrains in Tiger history is Paul Dietzel's pronouncement, "I'll never leave LSU," months before he left LSU for Army. Then, with rumors of him abandoning Ole Miss for Auburn, Tommy Tuberville said, "They'll have to carry me out in a pine box." Days later, Tuberville headed for the Alabama Plains.

Saban may be transparently deceptive, but, let's face it, it's an occupational trait.

But now LSU and Alabama are ready to play, so if there's a time to vent about The Evil One, or put him in context, this would be it.

Of course, what LSU fans are really upset about is not Saban returning to college football, it was returning to the SEC West where they fear he will do for the Crimson Tide what he did for the Tigers: revive a slumbering football giant.

Would any LSU fan unhappy in one job not accept another more to their liking, which is what Saban did? Would any one of them have turned down $4 million a year to coach the rival Tide – no matter how much they love the Tigers?

The answer to both, without fear of contradiction, is absolutely not!

The biggest question about Saban is not his return to college coaching, but how quickly he ran up the white flag at Miami.

When Saban arrived at LSU in 2000, there was no doubt eventually he was going to coach in the NFL. It was an itch he had to scratch, and everyone knew it. LSU was a temporary stop for Saban – and he loved the courting by pro teams almost annually. Then Saban got the Miami job and found in two short seasons he couldn't cut it, just like his coaching role-model and former boss Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, going 15-17 and failing to make the playoffs.

Then, as soon as there was a prominent job opening, Saban beat a hasty retreat back to college football. Anyone who's spent any significant time around Saban, and his massive ego, immediately recognized this as a capitulation of monumental proportions.

Let's not forget, though, Saban deserves much credit for LSU's current standing as a member of the sports elite. He galvanized the Tiger fan base, and he took a talented program and gave it what it most needed – discipline. But this, along with his 2003 national championship team, may be Saban's most lasting Tiger legacy: He was the moving force behind LSU's excellent academic center. Athletes that couldn't be counted on in the past because of classroom shortcomings are now making their grades – and big plays.

LSU owes Saban a lot. He owes LSU nothing – except maybe an apology for bad manners.

Saban always seemed to have an attitude that he invented football at LSU, always questioning – and dismissing – whatever happened before his arrival. He even tried to take credit for Les Miles' later success, pointing out smugly to the Alabama media during the Tigers' Sugar Bowl romp over Notre Dame which players he recruited for LSU.

That works two ways. Saban is winning now with Mike Shula's players, at a program that racked up 10 victories two years ago. His Tiger predecessor Gerry DiNardo, whose first three seasons were equally as impressive as Saban's, brought in the athletes that would win the first of Saban's two SEC championships at LSU in 2001, a little fact he never acknowledged.

In fact, for all his posturing in Baton Rouge, always inquiring why LSU didn't win more before he got there, Saban of all people should have known. When his Michigan State Spartans played DiNardo's Tigers in the 1995 Independence Bowl, it was LSU that went home with a relatively easy 45-26 victory.

In reality, LSU didn't play many softer defenses.

This is the recurring report on Saban at LSU, though it's hard to make college football fans believe it: They all think he was undefeated every year, but in four of his five seasons at LSU, Saban's teams lost a minimum of three games.

Take my word for it.

It's the unfairness of myth-making, but the very first time Miles loses three games at LSU, those reasonable Tiger fans will want to run him all the way out of Louisiana to Canada.

That's part of what Saban left behind at LSU, too.

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.


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