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Moore's patience, gamble brought Saban to Tide

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

TUSCALOOSA — Mal Moore only flinched once in his high-stakes bid to land Nick Saban as Alabama's football coach.

Uncertain of Saban's interest, Moore offered the job to West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez on Dec. 7. When Rodriguez turned him down a day later, Alabama's athletic director "immediately" resumed his pursuit of Saban even though it meant waiting more than three weeks for the Miami Dolphins' season to end.

Moore's patience — even though it was hard on the nerves of both himself and Crimson Tide fans — paid off when he was able to introduce Saban as head coach Thursday.

"I realize that I was out on the gangplank, or on thin ice," Moore said. "I felt like I had to do this — for this university, for these players, for the board of trustees, the president. I recognized that this was such a crucial hire for this university."

It was an awfully big hire for Moore, too. This was the fourth head football coaching search he has presided over during his eight years as athletic director, and needless to say the other hires didn't have happy endings.

Mike Shula and Mike Price wound up being fired, and Dennis Franchione only stuck around for two years before leaving for Texas A&M.

Moore and President Robert Witt fired Shula on Nov. 26, setting off a nerve-racking five-week search.

"He got hit, and I don't think there's any doubt he knew he was getting hit," said Joseph Espy, president pro tempore of the UA board of trustees. "The people that were running the situation — and that starts with Dr. Witt, he runs it, he makes the decision. He had absolute confidence in coach Moore, and the board of trustees never wavered one time in their confidence in coach Moore.

"Our policy decision was to get the best that was out there, and he did it. And we felt like he would."

Moore stuck to his guns after trying to hire Rodriguez.

"Rich was a championship-caliber coach, I felt like, one of the top coaches on our list," Moore said. "At that time I was trying to make it happen a little quicker and maybe lost my contact with my source of information with coach Saban.

"I wasn't sure where I was there, so I made the move for Rodriguez."

After that, he said, he quickly got an indication that Saban was interested in coming back to college football.

"I really zeroed in on this coach," Moore said.

But he said he never talked to Saban until Monday evening, the day after the Dolphins concluded their season with a loss to Indianapolis.

That was the first of two phone calls — "long conversations" — Moore had with Saban and his wife, Terry.

"I went forever before I talked to him," the AD said.

Moore had flown to Miami on Monday but didn't meet with Saban in person until arriving at his home two days later, when the coach accepted the job.

"I felt like I needed to be close by and on hand," Moore said. "It was just a feeling that I had. Once I did talk with his wife, I felt like I really had a chance."

"I will always tightly hug her," he added. "She gave me on the phone encouragement not to give up, because she wanted back in a college community, and so did he."

Moore didn't indicate who his Plan B was if Saban turned down the offer.

Saban told Florida reporters Thursday that it was Louisville's Bobby Petrino.

He knew he was taking a gamble, having to sweat it out until he got an answer from Saban.

"It was very tough," Moore said. "I realized what I was trying to do, and it was a real stretch, but I felt like it was important that we see it through. I didn't want to cut it short and give up on it. We stuck with it and it happened in the end."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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