Expectations high for Tigers

Discussion in 'The Tiger's Den' started by MLUTiger, Aug 13, 2001.

  1. MLUTiger

    MLUTiger Secular Humanist

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    By SCOTT RABALAIS
    Advocate sportswriter

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    The emperor of all he surveys, Nick Saban stood on the podium at LSU Media Day on Sunday and fielded this question: Are you ready to challenge Florida for supremacy in the Southeastern Conference?
    "I've only been here a year and a half," Saban said, a smirk spread thin across his lips. "Rome wasn't built in a day."

    He then reminded all present that Florida, 2001's preseason numero uno, has spent a decade building its empire, a decade that included a national championship. Same for Tennessee, which if it could beat Florida more than once a decade might challenge the Gators for primo SEC bragging rights.

    But a state full of Tiger fans and expatriate LSU backers everywhere hope, believe, fervently pray that Saban is on the right track.

    It's tough to be an LSU fan, tougher than if you root for Alabama or are a Gator-come-lately fan of Florida. There have been some good times since the planets aligned and LSU won its national title in 1958. But there's also been plenty of bad, including eight losing seasons since 1989.

    Saban banished those bad times last year with a surprising 8-4 record. This season his second Tiger team goes into the campaign with a respectable No. 14 ranking -- the kind of ranking that indicates the voters believe you are good and quite possibly very good if it goes your way.

    Whatever "It" is, more and more legions of LSU faithful believe Saban has it. You could almost see them bowing their heads in respect as Saban strode to a table to sign autographs during the Fan Day part of Sunday's program. It was kind of like the way the other combatants deferred to Russell Crowe's character in "Gladiator."

    "Saban."

    "Saban."

    "Coach."

    "Saban."

    "Spaniard." Who let that guy in here?

    What a difference from November 1999, when all most LSU fans knew of Saban was that he coached Michigan State and beat the Tigers in the 1995 Independence Bowl.

    But you certainly can't judge a coach or a team by just one game. Since then, as word of how respected Saban is by his peers has seeped into Baton Rouge, you begin to sense that fans view him as a younger, more fashionable Bill Arnsparger. One without ties, and sometimes without socks. It's a hefty endorsement, because you wouldn't get an argument from too many people that Arnsparger may have been the best pure football coach LSU ever had.

    If the fans have warmed to Saban, the feeling seems to be mutual. That's also a sea change from a year and a half ago.

    The day he was introduced as LSU's newest football coach, Saban stood at that same podium and looked like he had the words "What am I doing here?" written all over his face.

    He was leaving behind what was at last a thriving program at Michigan State after wrestling with years of NCAA scholarship reductions from the previous regime. He was joining a program run into the ground by the previous three regimes. And he did it sight unseen, not having set foot on the LSU campus since his days as an NFL assistant coach.

    The place has obviously grown on him, and Team Saban has only put down stronger and more expensive roots since coming to town.

    During the off-season, the family moved from a sizable home in the back of a Highland Road subdivision to what can only be described as an estate on Highland Road. It's a multi-acre, multimillion dollar spread with a French chateau-looking castle in the front for Terry Saban (if you're married you know the wife picks the house) and land for Nick to "walk around and spit on the ground" out back. There's also, he notes, a front yard accessible to fans who might want to plant "For Sale" signs if LSU's football fortunes drop off.

    "I like Louisiana," said Saban, who grew up in Monongah, W.Va. "I don't know if you could find a more perfect situation than we had last year relative to support. I've never been to a place that had better support.

    "From that standpoint, I don't know if there's a better job anywhere."

    Set that quote to music and play it in the ear of someone you love who wears purple and gold. Ever since Saban arrived and people got used to him, the question has been how long would he stay. The Saban/NFL rumor du jour comes from ESPN.com, which says Saban would be a top candidate for the Chicago Bears job should Dick Jauron falter.

    Saban's statement doesn't mean he's here until retirement. But it's worth remembering that everyone thought Skip Bertman would one day head back to Miami to replace Ron Fraser.

    Instead, Baton Rouge and LSU grew on him. Bertman stayed -- and built an empire.

    Of course, it took Bertman three years to reach the College World Series and eight to win it. Rome wasn't built in a day, but the expectations is that Saban will start laying in some roads and aqueducts this year.

    He already has legions at his disposal.



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  2. tirk

    tirk im the lyrical jessie james

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    someone contact scott and inform him we and gerry d kicked saban's ass. that no good bastard never won a bowl til we allowed him to grace our campus with his presence.
     

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