He was a star football player in college, a champion pro
football coach, a baseball president, a man with a short temper and
very long resume, never averse to tackling something new.
Nobody has ever done it quite like Lou Saban, who died early
Sunday at his home in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., at age 87. He had
heart problems for years and recently suffered a fall that required
hospitalization, his wife, Joyce, said.
"He was an original," she said. "He was one of a kind."
There was a reason Saban was dubbed "Much Traveled Lou." In
the first 33 years of a career that spanned five decades, Saban
held 18 jobs, an average of 1.83 years per stop. Among those jobs
was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 for his longtime
friend, team owner George Steinbrenner.
"He has been my friend and mentor for over 50 years, and one of
the people who helped shape my life," Steinbrenner, who was
receivers coach under Saban at Northwestern University in 1955,
said in a statement. "Lou was tough and disciplined, and he earned
all the respect and recognition that came his way. He spent a
lifetime leading, teaching and inspiring, and took great
satisfaction in making the lives around him better. This is a
tremendous loss to me personally."
Louis Henry Saban, a son of Yugoslav immigrants, was born in
Brookfield, Ill., in 1921, was an underground construction worker
during the building of the Chicago subways and a 1940 graduate of
Lyons Township High School.
He became a star quarterback and linebacker at Indiana
University and an all-league linebacker for the Cleveland Browns
In 1950, Saban accepted the first of his many head coaching
positions -- at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland. Five
years later, he took over at Northwestern for two years, then moved
to Western Illinois University before embarking on an unmatched
head coaching career.
It included stops with the Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills of
the old American Football League and Denver Broncos and Bills after
the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, along with college jobs at
Miami, Army, Northwestern and Maryland.
"The entire Bills organization is deeply saddened to learn of
the passing of Lou Saban," the team said in a statement.
"Talented, enthusiastic and colorful, Coach Saban's style of
coaching left an indelible mark on the AFL and professional
Saban joined the Patriots in 1960 when the AFL started.
"As the Patriots' first head coach, Lou helped kick off a new
era of football in Boston," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft
said in a statement. "This season, we will be celebrating the
Patriots' 50th anniversary and reflecting back on that inaugural
season. It should give us all cause to appreciate Lou's many
contributions during the Patriots' formative years."
Saban left for the Bills in 1962, guiding them to AFL
championships in 1964 and 1965, the only titles the Bills have ever
won. He quit for a job with the Broncos because of difficulties
with owner Ralph Wilson.
Six years later, at the urging of Steinbrenner, Wilson rehired
Saban, and he again was successful, overseeing O.J. Simpson's
record-breaking, 2,003-yard rushing season in 1973 and getting the
Bills to the NFL playoffs the next season. Saban left again after
some of his responsibilities were taken away.
"He was like a father to me," former Bills defensive back
Booker Edgerson said. "He steered me in the right direction. He
gave me advice. Some of it, I didn't like, but isn't that what a
Edgerson, who also played for Saban at Western Illinois and with
the Broncos, said he last saw Saban in October at a Western
Illinois banquet honoring the veteran coach.
"Lou Saban was a great teacher," Edgerson said. "He knew how
to build football programs. He could have built any program --
football, baseball, basketball, whatever. Even though his patience
was short-tempered, he allowed players to let out their anxieties
After quitting the Bills midseason in 1976, Saban spent two
years as athletic director at Miami, where he recruited future
Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.
He earned his peripatetic nickname as he skipped from job to
job, coaching Army in 1979 and then becoming athletic director at
Miami. Among the entries on his resume -- AD at the University of
Cincinnati -- for 19 days. Saban left that job at halftime of an
early-season game against Ohio University.
Saban also coached at Central Florida in 1983-84 when it was a
struggling Division II school and coached high schools in the late
1980s and in the Arena Football League in 1994.
Saban spent most of the 1990s starting or rebuilding college
programs at places like Peru State, Canton Tech and Alfred State,
where he left before the team played its first game.
"I've coached at all levels, covered the gamut, and I've never
really seen any difference," Saban said after being hired to coach
Alfred in upstate New York in 1994. "My coaching techniques are
pretty much the same, with some adjustments for what younger
players can and can't do."
Saban spent five years at Canton Tech in northern New York,
where the football stadium bears his name, before leaving after the
2000 season. In one of his last jobs, he coached Division III
Chowan State in North Carolina, leaving in 2002 after the team went
Despite all his travels, Saban was a loser in every major
college head coaching job he had, and despite his achievements at
Buffalo, he was a loser in the pros, too. His pro mark: 96-102-7.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Joyce Saban said the
family would have a mass at Our Lady of the Sea Catholic Church in
North Myrtle Beach on Saturday.