Understanding the message

Nick Saban wants to win. Badly. As much as any coach in the league, and certainly as much as any Dolphins fan who wants to see the team succeed. Make no mistake about that. And you have to understand that before you start over-analyzing the comments he made his Monday press conference, comments that had ESPN analyst Mike Ditka, among others, criticizing the Dolphins head coach.

The quote that caused such a furor came after Saban was asked whether the Dolphins' record might influence his decision when it comes to whether to get Zach Thomas back in the lineup or have him sit out the rest of the season because of his shoulder injury.

This is what Saban said: "I would let the doctors make that determination for me, in terms of what is best for Zach and I would obviously speak to Zach about how he wants to manage it and what he thinks is best for him.

"You guys are asking me a lot of questions about making decisions about what to do, based on how the season is going. What I am focused on is, turning the corner because we are building the team for the future, so where we are this season doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter. We want to see guys compete so we can know whether they need to be here, we want them to be here and if they are the kind of people we want. That is what we are trying to find out.

"The record doesn't really matter, the result doesn't matter and the score in the game doesn't really matter. Does that make sense to anybody besides me? Making decisions based on record, where we are, how much time is left in the game or what the score is, that is not how decisions are going to get made around here. They are going to be made about building a team in the future for this franchise that can be successful. That is what is how they are going to be made."

The criticism levied at Saban for those comments was that he's basically throwing away this season to build for the future.

But if you've listened to Saban often enough, you've got to be able to go deeper than the words.

Saban has said time and time again he's concerned about the process so the team can develop some consistency. Translated, that means that Saban's goal first and foremost is to develop a team that can win consistently. And he's saying that right now that takes precedence over being to win a game here and there.

Yes, this is a bottom-line business and the won-loss record is what should be most important, but what Saban would tell you is that even if you're able to steal a game without doing what he considers are the essentials, you're not going to have much success over any period of time.

Let's be honest here, the Dolphins aren't going to the playoffs this season, so whether they finish 7-9 or 4-12 doesn't really make that much of a difference in the grand scheme outside of what is established in the final weeks of the regular season.

Having said that, it then would make sense for Saban to give third quarterback Cleo Lemon late in the season because Gus Frerotte obviously isn't the long-term answer and we should know by now that Sage Rosenfels isn't either.

By no means is Saban quitting on the 2005 season, but perhaps winning or losing down the stretch isn't the No. 1 priority, but building a foundation is. And in the process of building the kind of foundation and the kind of team that Saban wants, the wins will come along the way.

Perhaps Saban could have avoided all the brouhaha by prefacing his comments by saying something like, "I'm an intense competitor and I want to win as badly as the next guy, but ..."

Regardless, somehow we get the feeling it should have been obvious that Saban wants what's best for the organization, short term and long term.

Then again, Ditka is a guy who traded his entire draft, and more, for one player. So consider the source.


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