Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga and team president Eddie Jones flew to Baton Rouge, La., on Christmas Eve in 2004 to meet with LSU head coach Nick Saban about the Dolphins' head-coaching vacancy. Hours later, Saban said, in an LSU press release, he needed "24 to 48 hours" to make a decision. One day later, he accepted the Dolphins' offer.
The months and years that followed — his 32 games with the Dolphins, the "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" quote, acceptance of Alabama's offer — have been well documented over the last decade. None of it should've been documented, though, because Saban said it should've never happened.
"As it turns out, what I learned from that experience in hindsight was, it was a huge mistake to leave college football," Saban told Glenn Guilbeau of the Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser. "And I know a lot of LSU fans think I left for whatever reasons, but I left because I wanted to be a pro coach, or thought I wanted to be a pro coach. We loved LSU. We worked hard to build the program. If there was one thing professionally that I would do over again, it would've been not to leave LSU."
What if Saban stayed at LSU? In the record books, certainly, Alabama wouldn't own five of the last 11 national championships and, potentially, LSU might have another title or two. But what about the coaching ripple effects?
LSU wouldn't have hired Les Miles away from Oklahoma State, so either he stays at Oklahoma State for several years and Mike Gundy is never promoted at his alma mater and becomes a head coach elsewhere or Gundy takes over two, three, five years later when Miles bails for a better job.
Maybe Michigan in 2008?
Miles leaves for Michigan, Gundy becomes Oklahoma State head coach in 2008 (or the Cowboys hire Todd Graham or someone else), and Rich Rodriguez doesn't leave West Virginia in 2008. Or Miles leaves for Alabama in 2007? Or Tennessee in 2009? The Vols hire Miles instead of Kiffin, who lands a Power Five coordinator job or mid-level head-coaching job instead.
Maybe Miles leaves for USC in 2010 and rebuilds the Trojans into a national title contender who never hires Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian or (retains) Clay Helton. Sarkisian stays at Washington, and Chris Petersen stays at Boise State a few more seasons until Oregon calls in 2016?
The Ducks hire Petersen instead of Willie Taggart, who stays at USF for another year or two before taking a non-Florida State job. Maybe he's Mark Richt's replacement at Miami? Or he takes a job like Mississippi State, Georgia Tech or Louisville.
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If Saban doesn't leave for Miami, LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp can't follow him. Muschamp stays at LSU and gets an FBS head-coaching opportunity earlier than 2011 (when he left Texas for Florida). Kirby Smart, LSU's first-year running backs coach in 2004, doesn't go to Georgia in 2005 (or the Dolphins in 2006) and doesn't become the most revered defensive coordinator in college football with an eight-year run at Alabama, which coincides with Mark Richt's eventual downfall at Georgia. Smart becomes a head coach elsewhere before 2016 and the Bulldogs don't hire him as Richt's replacement.
And who does Alabama hire as Mike Shula's replacement? Rich Rodriguez said no, as did Steve Spurrier. Jeff Tedford, Paul Johnson and Jim Grobe were believed to be next in line. All three (or five if they could've convinced Rodriguez or Spurrier to reconsider), obviously, would've created at least one more vacancy. If it's Tedford, maybe Cal hires Bronco Mendenhall, who creates a vacancy at BYU, who maybe hires then-USC assistant Steve Sarkisian.
This is just the beginning.
When Nick Saban left LSU for the NFL on Christmas Day in 2004, he launched a five-ton boulder into the Mississippi River that created ripple effects that forever changed the landscape and history of college football.