Nick Saban left bowl-bound Michigan State on Tuesday for Louisiana State, a job that will nearly double his salary and make him one of the country’s top-paid coaches.
He signed a five-year contract for about $1.2 million annually, joining a select group of millionaire coaches that includes Bobby Bowden of Florida State, Steve Spurrier of Florida and Phillip Fulmer of Tennessee.
Saban succeeds Gerry DiNardo at a football-mad school that just completed a 3-8 season, its second straight losing campaign. DiNardo was fired with a game left.
“I liked the challenge of this football program,” Saban said. “I think there is great tradition. I think the Southeastern Conference is a very competitive, outstanding football conference. There’s a challenge to being part of that conference that kind of intrigued me.”
Saban, a former NFL assistant, guided No. 10 Michigan State to second place in the Big Ten. The Spartans are headed to the Florida Citrus Bowl, their first Jan. 1 game since the 1989 Gator Bowl.
Michigan State’s associate head coach, Bobby Williams, was chosen as interim head coach and will lead the Spartans at the Citrus Bowl.
Saban earned $697,330 a year at Michigan State. His contract at LSU calls for a base salary of $250,000, with the balance coming in radio, TV and Internet appearances, plus other pay.
“Security is always something that’s important to you and to your family,” Saban said. “But it’s not the reason I came here.”
Michigan State spokesman Terry Denbow said there was “absolutely no bidding war” to keep Saban.
Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Michigan State alumnus, said he had hoped that Saban was going to become “part of the MSU family for a very, very long time.”
Saban, with tears in his eyes and his voice shaking, recalled speaking to his Michigan State players earlier in the day.
“I like college football because when I talked to my team today, the effect that you have on some of the players, their lives, means something,” he said.
Saban said he had two previous offers to leave Michigan State--from the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts.
But he did not consider leaving until LSU called.
The school is redesigning its stadium and capacity will be increased to 91,700, making it the fourth-largest on-campus stadium in the nation.
At LSU, Saban will run the state’s top college football program. At Michigan State, he was always in the shadow of Michigan.
“It was always UM this or that,” he said. “If I’d gone to Ohio it would have been Ohio State; Indiana it’s Purdue; Chicago it’s every other school in the Big Ten. In the East it’s Penn State. Wherever you go you’re looking at someone else when you’re recruiting, trying to catch up, trying to convince someone you’re up there.”
Saban was at Michigan State for 10 years, first as the defensive coordinator and for the last five years as head coach. He has a 43-26-1 record as a college coach and a 34-24-1 record at Michigan State.
Michigan accepted a bid to play in the Orange Bowl in Miami on New Year’s Day. The ninth-ranked Wolverines (9-2) will appear in the game as an at-large member of the Bowl Championship Series and will most likely face the winner of the Southeastern Conference title game between Florida and Alabama.
Drew Brees of Purdue, Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech and Chad Pennington of Marshall are the three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to college football’s top quarterback.
Rod Franz, the only three-time football All-American at California, died after a nine-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 74.
Franz, who died Saturday, was an All-American guard from 1947-1949, played in two Rose Bowls and was chosen to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1977.
Larry Kelley’s 1936 Heisman Trophy is among the sports memorabilia up for bid by Leland’s auction house Thursday in New York. Kelley, who played end for Yale, is in his 80s and decided to put the trophy up for auction. It carries a minimum bid of $25,000.
The only other Heisman put up for auction was the one presented to O.J. Simpson in 1968. It sold in February for $255,500.