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Spartans' Saban bolts for the bayou
Associated Press

 BATON ROUGE, La. -- Telling his Michigan State team that he was leaving to become Louisiana State's football coach was the hardest thing he's ever done professionally, Nick Saban said on Tuesday.

Hard maybe, lucrative certainly, but perhaps more importantly for an ambitious young coach anxious to build on his reputation, a change that could make him the toast of football-crazy LSU and the terror of the football-driven Southeastern Conference.

Nick Saban
Saban's deal could open the door for other coaches.

It was also a move that cost Saban a trip to the Florida Citrus Bowl. Later Tuesday, Michigan State associate head coach Bobby Williams was named as interim head coach and will coach the Spartans at the bowl game.

Williams, in his 10th year as running backs coach for the Spartans, was elevated to the position of associate head coach before the season began.

"I liked the challenge of this football program," Saban said of LSU. "I think there is great tradition. I think the Southeastern Conference is a very competitive, outstanding football conference. There's a challenge to being part of that conference that kind of intrigued me."

Saban, who earned $697,330 a year at Michigan State, agreed to a five-year rollover contract at LSU with a base salary of $250,000, and will be paid an additional $550,000 for radio, television and internet appearances, plus additional supplemental pay that will bring his total yearly package to $1.2 million a year.

"Security is always something that's important to you and to your family," Saban said. "But it's not the reason I came here."

Michigan State spokesman Terry Denbow said Michigan State conducted "absolutely no bidding war" in order to keep Saban.

"This was an opportunity for Nick and his family, both professional and personal, and we wish him the best of luck at LSU," Denbow said.

Saban said he had two firm offers to leave Michigan State previously, for the NFL's New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, but was not interested in moving until LSU came calling. The school is in the midst of a major building program that will add 11,000 seats, including 70 new suites, at Tiger Stadium, boosting stadium capacity to 91,700.

The stadium will be the fourth-largest on-campus stadium in the nation and Saban is tied with two other coaches as the third-highest paid coach. More importantly, he said, he will be at the No. 1 program in the state.

"At Michigan State we were never No. 1," Saban said. "That was always Michigan. It was always UM this or that. If I'd gone to Ohio it would have been Ohio State, Indiana it's Purdue, Chicago it's every other school in the Big Ten. In the east it's Penn State. Wherever you go you're looking at someone else when you're recruiting, trying to catch up, trying to convince someone you're up there."

Saban was at Michigan State for 10 years, first as the defensive coordinator and for the past five years as the head coach. He has a 43-26-1 record as a college coach and a 34-24-1 record at Michigan State. This year Saban guided No. 10 Michigan State to a 9-2 record, a second-place finish in the Big Ten and a Citrus Bowl berth -- the Spartans' first Jan. 1 game since the Gator Bowl in 1989.

"Everywhere I turned his name kept coming up," LSU athletics director Joe Dean said of Saban's selection. "He's a high-visibility guy from a good program who had a great season. I think what we saw there is what we'll see here but to the next level."

Saban has both college and NFL experience.

"I like college football, and I like college football because when I talked to my team today, the effect that you have on some of the players, their lives, means something," Saban said, tears in his eyes, voice shaking. "That's why I like college football."

LSU finished this season 3-8, their second straight losing record. Gerry DiNardo was fired with one game remaining.

There were other problems for LSU as well -- players arrested, players suspended, players quitting the team.

"This is the players' team," Saban said. "I'm the coach and I want the players to take some responsibility and ownership for all the areas that are important in building the team. How they play is just one of those areas."

Saban planned to stay in Louisiana for at least a day or two. He hoped to meet with the assistant coaches left over from the DiNardo era and the team.

Saban was not sure if he would bring Michigan State assistants with him or retain any of the present staff. He said Morris Watts, the present offensive coordinator at Michigan State who previously held that position under DiNardo, would be considered to possibly return to LSU.


Interim coach Williams gets full-time gig from Spartans

Michigan St. reaction to Saban departure varies

 Nick Saban says he does not want to be a NFL coach.
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