Saban appears to head Colts' early wish list LSU's Nick Saban, nearly hired by the Colts in '98, is among several possible candidates to replace Mora. By Phil Richards [email protected] January 09, 2002 Predicting where Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian might turn for a successor to coach Jim Mora is a little like reading the wind. Polian is notoriously private and at least a little unpredictable. Who was guessing Mora when Polian hired him as Colts coach in 1998? Mora wasn't on the radar screen. He had been out of coaching since his celebrated 1996 meltdown in New Orleans. Now he's out again, fired Tuesday afternoon, and Polian undertook his search for a successor that evening. He might have begun it with Nick Saban, coach at Louisiana State University. "He's an individual who was real close to being our coach before," said Colts owner Jim Irsay. That was in '98, when Polian opted instead for Mora, but there is no question that Polian continues to hold Saban in high esteem. He recommended Saban to LSU when the Tigers hired him two years ago. Saban is 18-7 with bowl victories both years in Baton Rouge and LSU is making every effort to keep him. Saban and the university have reached agreement in principle on a $400,000 raise that would boost the coach's salary to $1.6 million but out-clauses are not uncommon among top-tier college coaches. Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, confirmed Tuesday that Saban would have no problem escaping his contract. Saban would fit the current trend in the NFL, one that has worked to good effect in a number of cases: first-time head coaches with defensive backgrounds. Chicago's Dick Jauron, Cleveland's Butch Davis, New Orleans' Jim Haslett and the New York Jets' Herman Edwards all are recent hires. All are defensive-oriented. All have been difference-makers. The Colts' most urgent area of need certainly is its defense, but then Mora was a defensive coach. It's players who make plays, or don't. Saban established his NFL bonafides as secondary coach of the Houston Oilers in 1988 and 1989 under Jerry Glanville and defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns from 1991 through 1994 under current New England coach Bill Belichick. At least four current NFL defensive coordinators also have impressive credentials. Ted Cottrell is in his 19th season in the NFL, his first with the New York Jets. He coordinated Buffalo units that ranked sixth, first and third in total defense from 1998 through 2000. Jim Johnson is similarly qualified, but at 60, might be a bit old for his first head coaching job. Johnson is in his third season as coordinator of the Philadelphia defense, which ranks seventh in the NFL. He worked as Colts linebackers coach in 1994 and 1995 and as defensive coordinator in 1996 and 1997. Marvin Lewis is only 43, but he is in his sixth season as Baltimore's defensive coordinator. Lewis' credits include the NFL's most dominant defense in 2000, when the Ravens set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season (165) and won the Super Bowl. Baltimore ranks third this year despite an array of injuries. Greg Blache's unit is the heart and soul of a turnaround that has carried Chicago from 5-11 last season to 13-3 this year. Blache interviewed for the Colts head job in 1998, when he was in the last of his five years as the team's defensive line coach. Steve Spurrier, who resigned last week after 12 ultra-successful years at Florida, also is out there openly expressing his desire to coach in the NFL. The question is whether two men with personalities as strong as Spurrier's and Polian's could coexist, but Irsay is intrigued. "He's an interesting guy, a talented guy who would excite you with our offense and what he's done in his career," said Irsay. Oakland coach Jon Gruden also is highly regarded. He has a year left on his contract, but it is common knowledge that he does not enjoy a warm relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis. Other possibilities, however remote, could include Bill Parcells, Dennis Green and Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy, if he is fired. Parcells and Polian are known to hold one another in high regard. But Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants, isn't likely to come out of retirement unless he is assured of considerable control over personnel and other matters, which is unlikely under Polian. Green, fired last week after a 101-70 run in 10 years at Minnesota, exhibited a lack of control over his team this season that wouldn't go far with Polian. Dungy might be available if his 9-7 Buccaneers don't fare well in the playoffs, but he is reportedly a favorite to succeed Green at Minnesota. Polian needs permission from any league team to speak to a member of its coaching staff. It is customary to not approach a candidate who works for a playoff team unless it has a bye week or until it has been eliminated. Polian gave no timetable and would discuss no specifics. "I'm not going to comment on any individual right now or in the future," he said when asked about Saban's candidacy. "That's simply speculation and not fact."