College Football: Plenty of Saban hype at LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. ó The last time Nick Saban came to Tiger Stadium as a “visiting” coach, his reception was anything but hostile.
The ambiance inside Death Valley for a 2005 contest between the Katrina-displaced New Orleans Saints and Saban’s Miami Dolphins had an element of a family reunion to it.
Numerous fans wearing LSU purple and gold applauded when Saban emerged from the tunnel. The coach waved back affectionately.
It was as if the crowd wanted Saban to know the BCS championship he helped LSU win during the 2003 season would never be forgotten, and that he’d always be welcome in Baton Rouge.
This week, a new billboard near campus reads, “Welcome back Nick,” but somehow the message doesn’t seem so heartfelt. Maybe because it’s part of an advertisement for a “Burn Bama” bonfire at the Tiger Manor condominiums, scheduled for the eve of No. 15 LSU’s home date Saturday against Saban’s current team, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Apparently, leaving LSU for the NFL was understandable. Returning to the college ranks to coach one of LSU’s chief rivals in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division wasn’t.
LSU fans reveled in the Tigers’ win at Alabama last season, the first with Saban as the Tide’s coach. It was a high point of LSU’s national championship campaign under Saban’s successor, Les Miles.
With two losses already this season, LSU’s hopes of a repeat national title are very slim. Still, Tigers fans would get enormous satisfaction out of seeing their squad possibly derail Saban’s bid to place Alabama in this year’s title game.
The hype surrounding what some in south Louisiana are calling “Saban Bowl 2” seems a little unsettling for Miles, who urged his players to “deflect” questions about his predecessor’s return to Tiger Stadium and even offered a similar message to fans.
“I encourage them to root for us hard, not necessarily be too pointed at our opponent,” Miles said Monday as LSU began preparations for what likely is the biggest game left on its schedule. “Leave our opponent alone, just root hard for LSU.”
Miles has earned enormous goodwill in Louisiana after bowl victories and no fewer than 11 wins in each of his first three seasons, but he has to know some fans won’t follow that advice.
His players have heeded his call to downplay the hype or avoid it altogether.