Saban torn between Dolphins, Alabama

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MIAMI – The answer should come today. Coach Nick Saban will decide whether to remain with the Dolphins or accept an estimated $40 million contract with the University of Alabama.

Although Saban might get a pay hike from Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga if he stays, the decision isn’t all about money.

Saban spent part of Monday evening huddled with his family, weighing his loyalty to Huizenga and a desire to succeed in the NFL, football’s major league, against his love for a college campus atmosphere and an ability to affect the lives of young men.

That’s mostly it.

Alabama officially extended its offer to Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, on Monday and Huizenga countered by trying to convince the coach the Dolphins are on the brink of success.

Saban, through Sexton, has told Alabama he will make a decision on the school’s 8-10 year offer before today is over, giving the coach an opportunity to reflect on the matter with his wife, Terry, and Sexton.

“When is it appropriate for me to have a chance to look at my wife and talk to her after getting home at one o’clock in the morning last night and being here all day today?” Saban asked.

Saban was otherwise tight-lipped, dodging five different Alabama questions, during his 25-minute press conference Monday.

“This press conference is about our football team right now and if there’s something new to report, it’ll certainly get reported. I’m committed to doing my job well here because this is my job and that’s what I’ve done all day today and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

A report in the Birmingham News quoted sources saying Alabama athletics director Mal Moore flew to South Florida to meet with Saban and, in fact, a private jet arrived at the Boca Raton Airport from Tuscaloosa on Monday afternoon.

But it is uncertain if Saban met with Moore. Moore is also interested in talking to Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. The Cardinals play in the FedEx Orange Bowl game on Tuesday night.

It is certain Saban has softened substantially off his previous statements of “I am not going to be the Alabama coach,” which he made Dec. 21. And while Huizenga and others in the Miami organization still believe he will stay – as Saban had previously promised them – they realize the possibility he will leave is real.

Saban’s contract with the Dolphins has no buyout or penalty clause that prevents him from leaving before it expires.

The Dolphins late Monday were working on a reworked contract for Saban to convince him to remain with the Dolphins, but had not presented him that deal. Dolphins president Bryan Wiedmeier was at the team’s practice facility well into the evening.

Part of that reworked contract might seek to better protect Miami’s interests should another university approach Saban in the future.

Two people close to Saban, or as close as he lets anyone outside his family get, say the Alabama offer has a chance to succeed because Saban does not particularly embrace South Florida or its lifestyle.

He has a $7 million house on the water in Fort Lauderdale but apparently doesn’t take time to enjoy his surroundings. When Saban vacations he retreats to a house on a lake in Georgia and he takes tapes of players with him to study.

He rarely eats out locally either, preferring his wife’s cooking. A native of Fairmont, W. Va., Saban is apparently more at home in a smaller town.

He was quite at home in Baton Rouge, La., as he guided Louisiana State University to a shared national title in 2003. And he has made no secret of the fact he enjoys impacting the lives of young men in college.

His players in the NFL don’t offer him the opportunity to teach and impact them in the same way.

And so Alabama, situated in Tuscaloosa, is offering Saban a chance to return to an environment he enjoys along with paying him handsomely.

The dilemma for the coach is that he also has an ego and wants to succeed in the NFL. He realizes if he leaves the Dolphins, he will be branded a failure after delivering a 15-17 record in two years.

Saban also doesn’t want to disappoint Huizenga. The Dolphins owner gave Saban a five-year, $22.5 million contract starting in 2005. He allowed Saban the opportunity to hire an NFL-high 21 assistant coaches, he constructed a practice bubble at Saban’s request, and he lets Saban spend to the salary cap.

Huizenga met with Saban for 25 minutes Monday, in part, to persuade the coach that staying in Miami is the right thing to do.

“Yes, I met with him and we meet quite often,” Saban said. “I don’t think there is anything that I’m willing to discuss right now. I think it’s organizational business – what the the future of the team is, what we need to do, and some of the things that we are talking about right now.”

Huizenga tried to convince Saban that the Dolphins, 6-10 this season, can become a good team fairly quickly, an opinion Saban seems to share.

“Obviously, from the results that we got, and as close as we were, you would say not that far,” Saban said when asked how close Miami is to playoff caliber. “If we are in the NFC we are two games out of the playoffs. If we were in the AFC, we’re four, but we beat two division winners and another team that is in the playoffs.”

Saban also met with players as a team and individually Monday. He did not address with them the possibility he might not be their coach after Tuesday.

“He said there were just some things we need to clean up for next year,” said cornerback Travis Daniels.

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