Dig Baton Rouge

Black Christmas: Remembering the day Nick Saban left LSU

Everyone had an opinion or an inkling as to how it might unfold.

The message boards were blowing up bigger than they ever had before with hundreds of threads—each with speculation. Some of it was informed and other stuff was hogwash and Internet clickbait banter.

The year was 2004 and the Miami Dolphins needed a new coach. Firmly on their radar was LSU coach Nick Saban, who had just coached the Tigers to the BCS National Championship the season before—the Tigers’ first title since the 1950s. LSU fans were told they had nothing to worry about.

While preparing for the team’s bowl game with Iowa, Saban was approached by reporters while walking from his office to his car. He told the reporter that he was not leaving LSU, then spouted a “Geaux Tigers,” before driving off into the sunset. But the smoke then ignited into a fire which changed LSU’s football history forever.

Multiple national media reports on the week of Christmas in 2004 said that Saban had interviewed for the Dolphins’ position and there was interest from both sides. The speculation grew even further when it was reported that the Dolphins off ered Saban their job and the ball was in his court regarding whether he wanted to stay at LSU or make the jump to the NFL.

Gossip regarding the situation went wild. The already-hot message boards went into a full-on blaze of information, misinformation and theories about what would come next.

But then finality came when we all least expected it. Somewhere after opening up presents on Christmas morning, but long before all the relatives had eaten dinner at the family’s table, news broke from Baton Rouge, stating that Saban had accepted the Dolphins’ offer, thus leaving the school without its best coach in many, many years. Saban made the announcement official 24 hours later, then coached LSU’s bowl game on New Year’s Day against Iowa.

The game didn’t go as planned. Despite being heavily favored in the game, the distracted Tigers played poorly throughout. Saban’s final play as LSU coach was maybe his worst. The Tigers allowed a Hail Mary for a touchdown to end the game, allowing the Hawkeyes to score a 30-25 victory over LSU.

After the game, Saban apologized to the LSU fans for the loss, then thanked them for their support during his time with the team.

“You always dislike losing a game, especially losing a game like this,” Saban said.

At the start of 2005, Saban was officially introduced as the Dolphins’ head coach.

LSU moved quickly, too, conducting interviews in the final week of December before formally off ering its job to Oklahoma State coach Les Miles—a candidate that then-athletic director Skip Bertman believed could keep the program churning along into the future. Miles was an unknown at the time, but he’d earned the job with his ability to recruit.

At Oklahoma State, he was 28-21 overall, turning the Cowboys from an annual doormat into a contender.

With LSU, Miles proved to be a home run—a guy who far exceeded most fans’ expectations at the time. He stayed with LSU for more than a decade, posting a 114-34 record, including a 62-28 mark in SEC games. His Tigers’ teams won the SEC Western Division three times and he won the outright conference title twice.

Miles’ peak season, of course, came in 2007 when he led LSU to the BCS National Championship—just like Saban had done four years prior.

As for Saban, well, you guys know the story. He lasted just two years in the NFL, posting a 9-7 record in his first season, then going 6-10 in 2006.

Saban resigned after that season, despite stating publicly multiple times that rumors of his interest in the collegiate game were untrue. He later was hired by Alabama where he’s been since 2007.

With the Crimson Tide, Saban has been nothing short of unbelievable— one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the sport.


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