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Saban leaves Dolphins for Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama is ready for ''new era'' of football, and is certain Nick Saban can return the Crimson Tide to college football's elite.

The Tide lured Saban from the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday, ending five weeks of denials and two days of deliberation. Saban accepted the Alabama coaching job and abandoned his attempt to rebuild the Dolphins after only two seasons.

''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,'' Alabama 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 today to introduce Saban, who was flying to Tuscaloosa with his family.

Miami owner Wayne Huizenga was informed of the decision in a meeting Wednesday at Saban's house. Huizenga announced the departure at a news conference 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 Tide first approached Saban shortly after firing 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.

''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.''

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.

''Every time something happens, everybody wants to look at the negative things to it,'' cornerback Will Allen said. ''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.