Nick Saban landed to chants of "Roll Tide," then stepped off the airplane and made the long trek across the tarmac to greet throngs of screaming Alabama fans.
That feverish reception Wednesday kicked off a "new era" for the Crimson Tide under a coach they're hoping will finally restore the program to championship heights.
Alabama lured Saban from the Miami Dolphins back to the Southeastern Conference with a deal reportedly worth at least $30 million over eight years, the most lucrative in college football.
"When I set out on this search, I noted that I was seeking a coach who has a proven record of championship success and achievement," Tide athletic director Mal Moore said. "Coach Saban brings that proven record of accomplishment and leadership to our program."
Moore said the high-profile hiring "signifies a new era of Crimson Tide football." Alabama scheduled a news conference for Thursday to formally introduce Saban, who didn't field questions from reporters.
Saban was greeted by hugs, handshakes and pats on the back by some of the several hundred fans celebrating the dramatic conclusion to a five-week search to replace the fired Mike Shula. Then the coach, wife Terry and daughter Kristen were driven away in a red Chevrolet Tahoe with Moore to the football building. He was greeted there by dozens more fans.
The Tuscaloosa News put out a special edition trumpeting the hiring, with the blaring headline: "SABAN TIME."
"Mal Moore didn't just hit a home run, he hit a grand slam," raved Tide fan Mike Ryan, sporting a Bear Bryant-style houndstooth hat and a T-shirt listing the program's national championship years.
The shirt said everything about Alabama's expectations for Saban, who won a share of the 2003 national title at LSU, then bolted from the NFL after two seasons with the Dolphins. He has a record of 91-42-1 as a college coach at LSU, Michigan State and Toledo.
Saban is the most high-profile coach the Tide has hired since Bryant's retirement after the 1982 season, a steady stream that has included such names as Bill Curry, Shula and Mike DuBose.
Neither Shula nor DuBose -- both former Tide players -- had ever been a head coach.
"The last few hires were somewhat unknown going back to Mike DuBose," said Lee Roy Jordan, a former 'Bama and NFL star. "We knew him as a player at Alabama and as an assistant coach but he never had any experience when he got the job.
"We feel like we got a proven coach that can win an SEC and national title. That's the No. 1 thing for me."
The Tide first approached Saban shortly after firing Shula. After Saban turned down the job in early December, the university offered it to Rich Rodriguez, who decided to stay at West Virginia.
Saban's Coaching Career
Year Team Rec.
2006 Dolphins (NFL) 6-10
2005 Dolphins (NFL) 9-7
2004 LSU 9-2
2003 LSU 11-1*
2002 LSU 8-4
2001 LSU 8-3
2000 LSU 7-4
1999 Michigan State 9-2
1998 Michigan State 6-6
1997 Michigan State 7-4
1996 Michigan State 6-5
1995 Michigan State 6-4-1
1990 Toledo 9-2
* - Won National Championship
Saban punctuated weeks of denials with this declaration two weeks ago: "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."
He clearly had a change of heart, leaving Miami with three years remaining on his contract at $4.5 million a year.
Alabama lost to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7, the team's second losing season in the four years since Shula's hiring. Now, the Tide has its fourth head coach since 2000 -- and eighth since Bryant's last season in 1982.
The timing was significant since the NCAA's recruiting "dead period" ends Friday.
"We have been through a period of uncertainty the last month or so and we finally have some stability," Tide center Antoine Caldwell said. "Coach Moore said all along he was going to find us a proven coach with a winning record and he has done that with Coach Saban.
"I feel like he is the right man for the job and he will be good in getting Alabama back on track."
The Tide's long search prompted questions about whether the program was still a coveted job, or if the high expectations and pressure put a damper on some coaches' interest.
"I was hoping he was the No. 1 guy on the target list from the beginning," Jordan said. "I hoped we'd be able to get him. The people at Alabama are real excited and feel like we hired a coach that can win a national championship. He's already proven he can do that. He's a hands-on coach who really works hard and demands the same from his coaches and players."
Former Tide kicker Van Tiffin said he initially had doubts about the decision to fire Shula, but was pleased with the outcome.
"The problem sometimes with getting a renowned coach is timing," said Tiffin, whose son Leigh is a current Alabama kicker. "I'm not sure we should have gotten rid of Coach Shula. I thought he just needed a little more time.
"The timing obviously turned out to be pretty good with Coach Saban."
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson believes Saban can win quickly with the team Shula left behind.
"He has won a lot of football games and he won the national championship at LSU," Wilson said. "That makes it even more exciting for us.
"We have a lot of guys coming back on offense and I think we have an excellent chance to make a run at it, especially with Coach Saban."
The Associated Press News Service
Davie, Fla. (AP) -- Nick Saban is 'Bama bound. Ending five weeks of denials and two days of deliberation, Saban accepted the Alabama coaching job and abandoned his bid to rebuild the Miami Dolphins after only two seasons.
Miami owner Wayne Huizenga said he was informed of the decision in a meeting Wednesday at Saban's house. Huizenga announced the departure at a news conference that Saban didn't attend.
"It is what it is," Huizenga said, borrowing Saban's pet phrase. "I'm not upset, because it's more involved than what you think."
Since late November, Saban had issued frequent, angry public denials of interest in moving to Tuscaloosa. Huizenga said the change of heart wasn't driven by money, and Saban never sought a raise or contract extension.
Instead, Huizenga hinted that family issues for Saban and his wife, Terry, were a factor. The Sabans, both natives of West Virginia, have a son in college and a daughter in high school.
"I've been through this with Nick for quite some time now, and I feel the pain and so forth and so on of Nick and Terry, and it's not a very simple thing," Huizenga said. "I think Nick's great. I'll be Nick's biggest fan. I'll be cheering for him to win that bowl game."
A preference for the college game and the campus lifestyle may have swayed Saban. He won a national championship at LSU and is 15-17 with the Dolphins. This was his first losing season in 13 years as a head coach.
The Crimson Tide first approached Saban shortly after they fired Mike Shula. Huizenga has said he received repeated assurances from Saban that he would return in 2007, and two weeks ago Saban said: "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."
But when the Dolphins' 6-10 season ended Sunday, Alabama sweetened an offer that reportedly would make him the highest-paid coach in college football. He has three years remaining on his Miami contract at $4.5 million a year.
In the past, Huizenga has been persuasive when dealing with coaches. He talked Don Shula into retirement in 1996, talked Jimmy Johnson out of retiring three years later - Johnson lasted one more season - and was able to lure Saban to the pros in 2004 after other NFL teams had failed.
But this time, Huizenga failed to change Saban's mind. They met briefly on Tuesday, when Saban asked for another day to consider Alabama's offer. The coach was emotional when he called the Dolphins' complex Wednesday morning and informed his coaching staff by speakerphone that he was leaving, said Dom Capers, special assistant to the head coach.
"This is a decision probably he struggled with tremendously," Capers said.
When asked if Saban departure was a bad day for the organization, cornerback Will Allen said: "I don't think so. Every time something happens, everybody wants to look at the negative things to it. There could be some positive things. Who knows what's going to happen?"
After Saban turned down the Tide in early December, they offered the job to Rich Rodriguez, but he decided to stay at West Virginia. Alabama lost last week to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7.
Possible candidates to replace Saban include Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Pittsburgh Steelers assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhut.
Another possibility is Capers, a former head coach at Carolina and Houston.
"When opportunities present themselves, you certainly want to look at them," Capers said.
Huizenga didn't rule out hiring a college coach, as he did when Saban came to the Dolphins from Louisiana State two years ago.
"There's only one thing I want to do, and it's win," Huizenga said. "I don't care what it takes, what it costs, what's involved, we're going to make this a winning franchise. It's no fun owning a team if you're not winning, I can tell you that. And we are absolutely, positively going to get back to being a winning team. And sooner rather than later."
Leading the search for a coach will be Joe Bailey, chief executive officer of Dolphins Enterprises, and Brian Wiedmeier, the Dolphins' president and chief operating officer. The Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons are also seeking a new coach.
The Dolphins' next coach will be their fourth in nine seasons.
"I wish you hadn't brought that up," Huizenga said with a wry smile.
It has been a frustrating a stretch of instability for a franchise that had the same coach - Shula - for 26 years. Miami has failed to make the playoffs the past five years, a team record.
The Dolphins are coming off their third losing season since 1969 and face a likely roster overhaul. With Daunte Culpepper still struggling to recover from reconstructive knee surgery in 2005, Miami remains unsettled at quarterback, a troublesome position since Dan Marino retired seven years ago. The team needs upgrades in almost every other area for a feeble offense and aging defense.
Saban leaves behind the NFL's largest staff of assistants and general manager Randy Mueller, who might be given more responsibility under a new coaching regime.
The Dolphins haven't reached the AFC championship game since Huizenga became majority owner in 1994.
"All I want to figure out is how the heck we're going to win," he said. "And that's what everyone with the Dolphins wants, to win. So win, win, win. That's all I can say. We're going to go out there and kick some butt and make something happen, I guarantee you."
Updated: 01/03/07, 20:13 est
Story Courtesy: AP Wire Reports & cbs.sportsline.com
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.