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Saban embraces high expectations at Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban celebrated his return to
college football and embraced the championship hopes of Alabama
fans on Thursday, a day after getting a festive introduction to the
Crimson Tide faithful.

"I know there's tremendous expectations here," Saban said at a
news conference. "I can tell you that, however you feel about it,
I have even higher expectations for what we want to accomplish. I
want to win every game we play."

Saban, lured to Tuscaloosa by an eight-year package worth a guaranteed $32 million (plus an additional $700,000 to $800,000 annually in bowl-game bonuses), said "my heart was to go back to college"
but felt he left the Miami Dolphins in better shape than he found
them two years ago despite a 15-17 record.

"What I realized in the last two years is that we love college
coaching because of the ability that it gives you to affect people,
young people," he said, with wife Terry and daughter Kristen
looking on.

"If I knew that my heart was someplace else in what I wanted to
do, I don't think it would be fair to the organization if I
stayed."

The well-traveled Saban said his next stop would not be another
school but retirement to Lake Burton in north Georgia, where he has
a home.

Taking over a program with a rich tradition led by the late
coach Bear Bryant, who won five national titles, Saban refused to
dwell in the past.

"It's what you do now," he said.

The hiring provided a dramatic conclusion to a five-week search
to replace the fired Mike Shula.

"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," athletic director Mal Moore said. "Coach Saban
brings that proven record of accomplishment and leadership to our
program."

The Tuscaloosa News put out a special edition Wednesday
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 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, whose LSU Tigers shared the 2003 national title. He has a
record of 91-42-1 as a college coach at LSU, Michigan State and
Toledo, and was 15-17 at Miami.


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, Mike DuBose and Shula.

Neither Shula nor DuBose -- both former Tide players -- had 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 on
Nov. 27. After Saban turned down the job in early December, the
university offered it to Rich Rodriguez, who decided to stay at
West Virginia.

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."

Tide 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."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report