A Major Loss?

The word out of Dolphins camp on Tuesday afternoon was that a decision on Nick Saban's future in coaching now was expected on Wednesday morning after he met with owner Wayne Huizenga and continued to weigh a lucrative offer from the University of Alabama. In addition to the question of whether Saban will stay or go, we'll add this one: How big of a loss would it be for the Dolphins?

The question needs to be asked because, quite frankly, Saban hasn't exactly produced major results in his first two seasons with the Dolphins and it's not as tough the Dolphins are riding any kind of momentum into the offseason as they did in 2005 when they ended the season with six consecutive victories.

Now, we're looking at a team that lost its last three, has pretty much the same concerns it had after last season, except that it's a year older at key spots and the all-important quarterback position is in the hands of a quarterback whose future still remains cloudy.

A 15-17 record and two playoff-less seasons are not what any of us, including Huizenga, had in mind after Saban came in with the tag of the hottest coaching candidate available.

Saban still has the look of a man with a plan and the organizational skills to make things work on a long-term level, but the early results speak for themselves.

Of the 22 NFL coaches not in their first year with their team in 2006, Saban is one of only eight who has failed to make the playoffs in either of his first two seasons. For the record, the other six are Marvin Lewis, Romeo Crennel, Jack Del Rio, Marty Schottenheimer, Jeff Fisher, Dennis Green and Mike Nolan.

Breaking down those guys, Schottenheimer already had quite a resume when he took over in San Diego; Nolan has the 49ers' outlook more promising after a 7-9 second season; Jacksonville went from 5-11 to 9-7 in Del Rio's second year; and Marvin Lewis produced back-to-back 8-8 seasons in his first two years.

Saban, meanwhile, went from 7-9 to 6-10. There have been slow starts both seasons, which is troubling, as is the failure to get the team's first-round pick signed in time for the start of camp the last two years.

The man Saban most often is compared to is Bill Belichick, and he had the Patriots winning the Super Bowl in his second season in 2001. After inheriting an 8-8 team, Belichick went 5-11 in his first year.

Of course, Belichick got the luckiest break of any coach in the NFL over the past 20 years when he stumbled upon Tom Brady -- if the Pats knew he was going to be that good, they wouldn't have waited until the sixth round to draft him -- but the Pats still don't seem to lose games to teams they should beat.

That has been a problem for the Dolphins under Saban. Just this year, the Dolphins lost twice to Buffalo and lost at Houston, while beating New England and Chicago.

Saban's specialty is the secondary, yet that's been the weak link of the defense the last two years. Of course, the personnel isn't that great, but because Saban controls everything in the organization, that responsibility falls on him.

Besides, Saban inherited Patrick Surtain from the Dave Wannstedt regime, but decided he was too costly to keep. Truth is, the Dolphins have yet to adequately replace him.

Look, we're not saying Saban is a bad coach or the Dolphins would be better off if he left, but the truth is that he has yet to live up to the hype that accompanied his arrival and maybe, just maybe, his departure wouldn't be so catastrophic.

Yes, it would mean having to start over with a new coaching staff. But as has been proven around the NFL -- with New Orleans, Kansas City and the Jets this year -- having a new coach doesn't mean you can't make the playoffs.


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