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JOESAM2002 01-08-2004 12:10 PM

Bears offer to Saban....WOW........
 


By David Haugh
Tribune staff reporter

January 8, 2004


If the Bears wanted to start the bidding for Louisiana State coach Nick Saban at $4 million per season, that would price LSU out of the coaching auction.

But that only matters if Saban puts a price tag on his services.

"We can't provide the money the Bears can," LSU athletic director Skip Bertman acknowledged in a telephone conversation Wednesday. "But we can offer Nick things the Bears can't: the chance to be vice president of player personnel, general manager, president and owner of all things football.

"The president of the university isn't going to get involved with him, and he has all the control he wants. We're supplying that, and a lot of love."

Bertman said LSU has offered Saban a six-year contract he called "fireproof," and is believed to be worth $3 million a season with incentives. The proposal remains in the hands of Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, with whom Bertman met on Tuesday.

Bertman expects a resolution to the Saban issue, which is preoccupying fans in Baton Rouge, within a week. Saban spent Tuesday recruiting in-state for LSU and Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., picking up a coaching award.

His reluctance to sign LSU's new deal immediately sparked speculation he would entertain NFL offers from the Bears and Atlanta Falcons, the two remaining teams with vacancies who have shown interest.

But Bertman said Saban told the New York Giants he wasn't interested when they called Tuesday before hiring Tom Coughlin, and he expects Saban to do the same with the Bears, based on conversations he had with the coach as recently as Wednesday.

Bertman acknowledged the Bears have expressed an interest in Saban and wasn't surprised to learn the two sides have communicated through intermediaries. General manager Jerry Angelo talks regularly with Saban, Bertman pointed out, and almost everybody at LSU understood that friendship would produce at least a discussion over the Bears' job.

In the end, Bertman expects the allure of college coaching and family stability to outweigh any NFL opportunity for Saban.

"He likes it here, so I don't have to pay him $4 million or $5 million … we have that in our favor," Bertman said. "I don't think it matters what they offer him. I just don't think he's ready to make the move yet, even though he likes to hear from [the NFL]."

One day—not in the near future—Bertman believes Saban, 52, will do more than just listen.

"Nick likes the NFL, I know that, but I think he realizes [Bill] Parcells [of the Cowboys] is 62 and look how he's coaching, so he figures he could still coach in the NFL 10 years from now," Bertman said. "Or there are other situations that Nick knows will come up eventually. I just don't think he or his family wants to go to professional sports at this time."

The Bears' backup plan seems to be revolving around 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora, who clicked with Angelo during an interview Monday and talked again with the Bears on Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the search. Angelo considers Mora a good fit for the Bears and likes the leadership qualities evident in the 42-year-old son of the former Saints and Colts coach of the same name.

Mora impressed the Bears with his offensive vision, influenced by spending the last six years in San Francisco within proximity of passing guru Bill Walsh. A source confirmed Mora has designs on a staff that would include 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur and former Lions coach and current Eagles assistant Marty Mornhinweg, men with histories of developing quarterbacks with Rex Grossman-like potential.

Trouble is, Mora also impressed Atlanta enough to be invited back for a second interview Thursday, and the Raiders have asked the 49ers for permission to speak with him Friday.

The rest of the Bears' list includes defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel of the Patriots, Lovie Smith of the Rams and Mike Nolan of the Ravens, as well as dark-horse candidate Ralph Friedgen of Maryland. Friedgen reportedly reasserted his desire to remain head coach at Maryland on Wednesday after reports surfaced of the Bears' interest in him.

Other coaches could emerge if Angelo concludes that the first batch of prospective head coaches didn't display the special quality he seeks, though that seems unlikely given the way Mora dazzled him.

With the Redskins hiring Joe Gibbs on Wednesday, a day after Coughlin took the Giants job, and Dennis Green reportedly agreeing to a four-year offer from the Cardinals, the Bears run the risk of putting their new head coach at a disadvantage in assembling a quality staff—a hindrance to Dick Jauron when he was hired Jan. 24, 1999. By the time the Bears hire a coach, the pool of available assistants will be smaller than it is this week.

On Thursday in Baltimore, Angelo is scheduled to sit down with Nolan, the son of former 49ers and Saints coach Dick Nolan.


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