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When Dolphins didn’t land Drew Brees, Nick Saban decided, “I’m getting out of here”

Through the latter half of Nick Saban’s second season as head coach of the Dolphins, we heard repeatedly that he was miserable in the NFL and that he wanted to go back to the college game. On Tuesday, Saban revealed the moment at which he claims that he decided the NFL wasn’t for him.

In comments published by, Saban said decided to leave the Dolphins after the team chose not to sign quarterback Drew Brees.

“Look when the Miami Dolphins were going to sign Drew Brees, Drew was coming to Miami when I was the coach there,” Saban said. “He was going to be the quarterback. That’s all we needed. We just went 9-7 and all we needed was a quarterback to be a playoff team. We were going to sign Drew Brees as a free agent. Dr. [James] Andrews operated on [his shoulder] and I went to Birmingham to see Dr. Andrews, and he said it’ll be fine. Our doctors failed him on the physical. [Drew] was there to sign with us. . . .

“So I decided right then when that happened that we don’t have a quarterback in the NFL, we’re not going to win. I’m getting out of here. I’m not staying here. I’m not going to be responsible for this. That doctor didn’t know his ass from a handful of sand. Drew Brees plays 15 more years, wins a Super Bowl, goes to nine Pro Bowls. And we didn’t take him in Miami, where he wanted to go. Some things you can’t control. When we left there nobody understood why. Well that was why. There’s always a reason.”

Saban’s incessant complaints about Dr. Don’t Know My Ass From A Handful Of Sand have never made complete sense. Saban ran the show in Miami. Saban could have overruled the doctor. Saban, if necessary, could have brought Dr. Andrews to Miami for a one-on-one meeting with owner Wayne Huizenga. Saban could have done something if he wanted Brees as bad as Saban now claims he does.

Saban’s official story on the subject isn’t surprising. By insisting that he wanted Brees and that someone else prevented it from happening, Saban creates the impression that the Dolphins would have been what the Saints became. And that not-so-subtle attitude undermines the special chemistry that Brees developed with Saints coach Sean Payton. Saban, a defensive coach by background, may not have gotten the same sustained excellence out of Brees that Payton did.

Besides, it’s not as if Saban checked out the moment the Dolphins chose not to sign Brees. The Dolphins instead sent a second-round pick to the Vikings for quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who suffered a serious knee injury in 2005 but who quietly had an excellent season in 2004, with a completion percentage of 69.7, 4,717 passing yards, 39 touchdown passes, and a full-season passer rating of 110.9.

The truth seems to be that Saban made a calculation that eventually blew up in his face. Instead of moving heaven and earth to get Brees (and, surely, if Saban had told Huizenga, “Sign Brees or I’m out of here after the season,” Huizenga would have signed Brees), Saban opted for Culpepper. And it didn’t work. Once it became clear it wasn’t working, that’s when the rumors began to percolate that Saban wasn’t long for the NFL.

But Saban will surely continue to push his own narrative on the subject, because it’s always better to be able to say that someone else didn’t know his ass from a handful of sand.