interesting retrospect. stumbled across this sporting news article dated 3-jan-2000. I highlighted 2 parts. One I found interesting and the other funny. Jeff Duncan When Nick Saban took over the LSU football program, he knew he would face obstacles. But the biggest may be himself. At his hourlong press conference on the day he was hired as football coach at Louisiana State, Nick Saban smiled exactly twice. Consider that an emotional outburst. In introducing the new coach, LSU chancellor Mark Emmert lauded Saban's analytical skills, saying the coach would "make a great professor (or) chess player." That had to make the bayou faithful wonder: The man hired to bring the magic back to Tiger Stadium is a chess player? A professor? This is not what LSU fans were hoping for. Since the departure of 18-year coach Charles McClendon in 1979, the Tigers have been coached by a string of colorless droids, starting with Jerry Stovall in 1980, followed by Bill Arnsparger, Mike Archer, Curley Hallman and, most recently, Gerry DiNardo. None has seemed comfortable in his role as LSU's top cat. None lasted more than five seasons. Instead of watching the Tigers in a bowl game, LSU fans are watching a new coach slowly assimilate to Louisiana and the many problems of the school's football program. Tiger fans pleaded for school officials to find the opposite of DiNardo, a Notre Dame alumnus and gruff Brooklyn native. They wanted an offensive-minded Southern coach with people skills. Emmert answered with Saban, a lifelong Midwesterner with a defensive pedigree and drill-sergeant reputation. When asked his impression of Saban after the new coach's first team meeting, one Tiger starter ho-hummed, "He's just like Coach D (DiNardo)." A chess player. LSU fans asked for Bobby Bowden and got Bobby Fischer. LSU didn't make Saban the third-highest-paid coach in college football because he could entertain at dinner parties. The school is paying him $1.2 million a year to win. Should be easy enough. All the ingredients are in place for Top 25 status: state school, rich talent base, passionate fan following, limitless resources, powerful conference affiliation. Steve Spurrier once interviewed for this job and still calls it "one of the top jobs in America." "I consider LSU a sleeping giant," Saban says. Yet, various problems--on-field and off-field--have conspired to tackle the Tigers by the tail. LSU has suffered eight losing seasons in the last 11 years. "When I came here I didn't know what the problems were, and I still don't know all of them," Saban says. "But when I look around the country at all the state schools, most of them are having a fairly high degree of success. And there's no reason why LSU shouldn't be the same. The problem here has been consistency. There have been a lot of extremes." Saban is discovering what Louisianans and those around SEC football already know: LSU is a coaching conundrum. Every positive is balanced by a negative. In terms of talent, Louisiana is blessed with some of the best high schoolers in the nation. Yet, many of the top prospects are academic risks because of the state's 49th-rated educational system. DiNardo lost 17 players during his five-year tenure to grades. Then there are the fans. LSU has one of the most passionate followings in the game. Despite a 4-7 season in 1998, the school added 11,600 seats to its stadium. But, last season, that meant 11,600 more boos. The invective from the home crowd was so bad, several LSU players say they prefer playing on the road. No LSU coach has been able to keep off-field problems from seeping into the program. In the last year, Tiger players have developed a hefty rap sheet: arrests for drug trafficking, stalking and purse snatching; flunking out; illegal use of school phone access codes, and suspensions for inappropriate relationships with an agent. These are just the publicized problems. Behind closed doors, the LSU coach deals with personal issues. DiNardo said that at one time, 29 players on the LSU roster had children. "It's really a unique situation," says Hal Hunter, who served as LSU's interim head coach for its season-ending upset of Arkansas, "and the person that's going to run this program should have a great understanding of this particular situation, of the type of players that are here, of the fans, the community, the conference." Enter Saban. Although he does not have a great understanding of the LSU situation, it's easy to see why Emmert was reluctant to bring in a major-college coordinator or lower-division head coach. LSU's gumbo pot of problems requires an experienced Division I-A head coach, preferably one with a history of rebuilding programs. "You want a big fish, you fish in deep water," says Emmert. Among football people, Saban is a big catch. He won in his only year at Toledo, 1990. He won with the Cleveland Browns. He won at Michigan State, steering the Spartans from NCAA probation to the Top 10 and a Citrus Bowl berth. When Indianapolis Colts president/general manager Bill Polian sought a coach to replace Lindy Infante in 1998, his first choice was Saban. "He's a first-rate person and a marvelous football coach," Polian says. He is considered one of the best defensive tacticians. His defenses are known for their elaborate coverages and multiple formations. In Cleveland, he transformed the defense from one of the league's worst into one that set a franchise record for fewest points allowed (204). At Michigan State, the Spartans allowed 109 fewer yards per game in Saban's final year than in his first. "Nick is as good as it gets," says Saints linebackers coach Rick Venturi, who worked with Saban with the Browns. "He's sharp, just a brilliant football mind. He knows the game from A to Z." He's also an ace recruiter. Saban beat Florida State for blue-chipper T.J. Duckett, the nation's top-ranked prospect last February. He raided south Florida for Sedrick Irvin and Amp Campbell. Saban's 34-24-1 record at Michigan State is two wins better than DiNardo's five-year mark at LSU. But he says the Spartans should be measured by how much they improved after he took over--especially considering he was operating in the shadow of more powerful Big Ten schools. "Everybody forgets what I took over," Saban says. "I didn't take over Michigan. We were never No. 1 anywhere we went at Michigan State." One thing that attracted Saban to LSU is the prospect of being No. 1 in his state. That starts with recruiting, where the Tigers have gradually lost their local grip. Per capita, Louisiana is one of the top talent producers in the nation. At one point this season, 65 Louisiana products dotted the rosters of Top 25 teams. The list of ones that got away is impressive. Anthony Thomas of Michigan. Travis Minor and Roland Seymour of Florida State. Raynoch Thompson and Leonard Scott of Tennessee. Anthony Lucas of Arkansas. Major Applewhite of Texas. Arnaz Baffle of Notre Dame. In recent years, Marshall Faulk, Warrick Dunn and Peyton Manning escaped LSU's grasp. "The obstacle Saban faces is whether he can keep the good players home," says national recruiting analyst Bobby Burton. "Recruiting in the South is much more provincial. In the North, there is more cherry-picking players from all over the country. In Louisiana, there are enough good players in the state, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and (in) Houston to supply the program every year." The program's relationship with several area high school coaches--including Dennis Dunn, the coach of Evangel Christian in Shreveport, one of the top prep programs in the country--has been strained. Evangel features one of the nation's top prospects, quarterback Brock Berlin. LSU recruited him, but he chose Florida. Saban must reverse that trend. He has made several shrewd moves. He immediately visited powerhouse prep programs around the state. To cover up his unfamiliarity with the South, Saban assembled a staff heavy on Southern seasoning. Even after the recruiting season ends in February, Saban will have in-house concerns to address. He must make a decision on one of the most divisive issues within the program--picking a quarterback. On one hand, there's fan favorite and local hero Josh Booty, another Evangel product. On the other is team favorite Rohan Davey, who engineered the Tigers' season-ending upset of Arkansas. Last season, the quarterback race divided the loyalties of some players and created another lingering distraction. There is reason to believe that Saban will succeed, that this awkward marriage might work. Aside from his fast glum-faced press conference, Saban has done all the right things. He has plenty of available talent, a strong fan base and a clean slate. Having been a head coach, Saban knows the rigors of the job, but he may not know the rigors of this job. Problems at LSU are magnified. He will have to be a social worker, academic counselor and public relations consultant. Most important, he will have to be an expert at one of Louisiana's proudest pastimes: backroom politics. Saban's no-nonsense approach may not play well with the good ol boys at the booster crawfish boils and recruits in the backwoods bayous. "If I have a question about Saban and LSU, it's with the alumni," Burton says. "As long as he wins, it won't be a problem. But if he loses, I don't know if they'll be patient with him." "To bring somebody in here that's not aware and can't deal with this situation," Hunter says, "is setting them up for failure." Still, LSU fans have taken to Saban. They have already Cajunized his name on Louisiana bumper stickers--"Say-bahn" has become "C'est-bon," French for "It's good." But when DiNardo was hired, "DiNardeaux" bumper stickers appeared shortly thereafter. It did not take long for the "DiNardeaux Must Geaux" stickers to pop up, either. Jeff Duncan covers LSU football for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He will switch to the New Orleans Saints beat this week and now is THE SPORTING NEWS' Saints correspondent.