DESTIN, Fla. - Nick Saban’s return to the SEC gives the conference four coaches who have won national championships and two who don’t appear to like each other much.
After South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier came back to the SEC to coach in the same division as his Florida alma mater, new Gators coach Urban Meyer said all the right things about honoring and continuing the legacy that Spurrier built in Gainesville.
But some of what LSU coach Les Miles has said since Saban, his predecessor on the bayou, was hired at Alabama in January has been laced with profanity.
At a signing day party in February, Miles fired up the Tigers’ faithful by declaring LSU had “a new rival in (expletive) Alabama!”
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Miles later apologized for the remark in an e-mail to the LSU student newspaper. He told a Louisiana reporter last week that he was caught up in the recruiting fervor after Saban had gone after several Louisiana players who were LSU commitments.
Meanwhile, Saban rubbed LSU coaches and fans the wrong way when he pointed out at his introductory news conference at Alabama that many of the Tigers’ stars in their Sugar Bowl rout of Notre Dame the previous night were players he had recruited.
There were also whispers that Saban was critical of Miles and his staff when talking with Louisiana recruits - allegations that Miles said he could not prove.
Given those oral jabs, observers jokingly wondered whether the first face-to-face meeting between Saban and Miles at this week’s SEC spring meetings would feature more fireworks than the recent Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather bout.
While there have been no early reports of bad blood, it is fair to say conditions at the Sandestin Hilton, hard by the Gulf of Mexico, have been unseasonably icy.
“I don’t have any bad feelings toward him,” Saban said. “I can’t speak for him, though.”
Miles was just as cool on the topic of Saban.
“We’re discussing the same agenda,” Miles said Wednesday. “To me, it’s just a guy that’s representing the other school.”
Responding to a follow-up question, Miles added: “I never knew him before, had no real relationship with him, have none still.”
“I don’t really have a previous relationship with Les. I don’t know him that well,” Saban said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way he’s taken over the program at LSU, and the good job he’s done with the program there.”
This has all the makings of the Spurrier-Phil Fulmer rivalry, without the zingers and funny one-liners.
Besides agitating LSU fans, Saban’s return to the SEC has brought more attention to the football-crazed conference, which, as Georgia’s Mark Richt noted, “is kind of hard to do.”
A crowd of 92,138 filled Bryant-Denny Stadium for Alabama’s spring game, and some were turned away.
Saban won an SEC championship in his second year at LSU before capturing the 2003 national championship two seasons later. He left Baton Rouge after the ’04 season for the Miami Dolphins.
But Saban realized he missed the college game. So after saying publicly he would not become Alabama’s coach, Saban accepted the Tide’s reported $4 million-a-year offer.
“He’s good for the league, obviously,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “He’s a fine football coach and certainly ratcheted up the interest in Alabama football and whoever plays them, which we do our second game. I think he’ll make them tough. He’ll make them hard to beat.”
And perhaps, hard to love for fans of other SEC schools, LSU in particular.
“It’s nothing personal in nature,” Saban said. “I still have a tremendous amount of respect for the state of Louisiana, the people in the state, the fans who supported us and the administration who helped us succeed. I don’t see why that has to be bad.”
Les Miles might feel otherwise.
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.