For the first time since he bolted for the Alabama Crimson Tide, former Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban will be back in Miami, coaching a football game in the stadium he once called home. Saban will bring his #2 Alabama team into Sun Life Stadium on January 7, 2013 to face the top rated Notre Dame for the NCAA college football National Championship.
Saban should not expect a warm welcome from the South Florida crowd.
The 2006 Dolphins were searching for the quarterback Saban wanted. They approached free agent Drew Brees, who was coming off a shoulder injury, offering him the position. However, Brees' shoulder failed the team's physical, and the doctors warned that Brees would never be close to the quarterback he was in San Diego.
Instead, the Dolphins traded a second round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Daunte Culpepper, who was coming off a knee injury. The team also traded a conditional pick to the Detroit Lions for Joey Harrington, and signed rookie free agent Marcus Vick.
The season, of course, did not go the way Saban had hoped, with the team losing six of their first seven games. Culpepper ended up on injured reserve, and Harrington could not shake the damage years in Detroit had done to him. As the season neared its conclusion, which would be a three game losing streak for the Dolphins, rumors started to swirl that Saban was heading to Alabama after the year.
The rumors, which Saban continued to deny, culminated when, an a December 21 news conference, Saban said, "I guess I've got to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."
Thirteen days later, Saban resigned from the Dolphins and was introduced as the new head coach for Alabama.
In the first media event for Saban as he gets ready to return to Miami, the Alabama coach called in to the Dan LeBatard Show on 790-AM yesterday. Saban spoke to LeBatard and to former Miami linebacker Jason Taylor, and the topic turned to his decision to leave Miami.
LeBatard asked Saban what he would go back and change about his time in Miami. "I didn't handle how I left very well. That's always been a thing with me that I've never ever really felt good about," Saban said. "We all make mistakes. We all learn about ourselves. And, as much as I respected the organization, the players, the things we tried to do there, this has been a really good thing for me and my family - to be here.
"Sometimes, you wish you would have done things a little differently." Saban went on to explain that he was trying to do the best thing he could for the team, without the distractions of the rumors. He says that he did not entertain anything from Alabama until the season was over, and that he still feels bad about all of it, and he wishes he could have handled it better. He also explained that one of the hardest things he's ever had to do was telling then owner Wayne Huizenga that he was leaving, and he described Huizenga as one of the top five people he's ever met.
LeBatard also asked if Saban would still be the Dolphins head coach if he had chosen Brees instead of Culpepper. "Well, we did choose Drew Brees," Saban answered. "I've never talked about this publicly, but I think the players know this, but we think Drew Brees is an outstanding player. He's the guy we made the first offer. Quiet frankly, he didn't pass the physical with our organization, and we had to go in a different direction. And, there's not a lot that we could do."
Palm Beach Post Dolphins beat writer Ben Volin mentioned the situation yesterday via his Twitter account.
JT said he talked with Saban several times about his MIA/Alabama decision right up until it happened, and Saban was "heartbroken" to leave— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) December 17, 2012
The pain of Saban's betrayal, at least in the eyes of Dolphins fans, could, and probably will, resurface as the National Championship game gets closer. Of course, the organizers of the Orange Bowl, who is the host committee for this year's game, hope that's not the case.
"You know what, I'd like to believe five years, four years later, that the community has mellowed and the college football world is going to applaud Nick Saban," former Orange Bowl president and current committee member Danny Ponce told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Michael Casagrande in the middle of Alabama's SEC championship celebration earlier this month. "If there's some Dolphin people down there that are upset with him, I can't change that. We at the Orange Bowl are proud to have coach Saban coming back to Miami."
As January 7 approaches, and Saban is on TV and radio more and more, I wouldn't bet on a mellow community. No former coach, player, or executive is as hated by Dolphins fans as Saban is. Will the frustration of the 2005, 2006, and the Cam Cameron 2007 season be felt as Saban takes the field in Sun Life Stadium? My money would be on yes.