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Miami's Saban focuses on effort, not victories



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- Nick Saban returned this week from a family vacation in north Georgia to find his new $7 million waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale not quite finished, the scheduled completion date of June 1 long past.

In his office overlooking the Miami Dolphins' practice fields, empty picture hooks dot the walls, evidence of a transition still in progress.

Yet Saban said he's ready for work. The Dolphins take the practice field Monday to begin their 40th training camp -- and Saban's first as an NFL head coach.

"I told my wife, 'This is what I need to operate: Just give me a mirror to shave, and a couple of nails to hang my clothes,' " he said with a laugh.

Since accepting the Dolphins' job last Christmas Day, Saban has overhauled a once-proud franchise coming off its worst season since the 1960s. In seven months he hired a new coaching staff, installed a new offense and defense, acquired 44 new players and welcomed back Ricky Williams, whose sudden retirement a year ago this weekend precipitated the Dolphins' decline.

"We definitely know there's a new sheriff in town," linebacker Junior Seau said. "There aren't any questions or gray areas."

There are, however, doubts as to how quickly Saban can turn things around.

In his past two jobs, Saban said, his first year exceeded expectations -- he went 6-5-1 at Michigan State in 1995, and 8-4 at Louisiana State in 2000. And it won't be difficult for the Dolphins to play better than last season, when they went 4-12, setting a franchise record for defeats in their first losing year since 1988.

Nobody knows

But Saban declined to speculate how much the Dolphins might improve.

"In my mind, it's all about the challenge of climbing the mountain -- not in terms of just how many games you're going to win, but more how are you going to get everybody playing to the best of their ability," he said. "Maybe we get everybody as good as we can be, and we win half our games. Maybe we win three-quarters. I don't know.

"We obviously have some good players. There are guys who have had a lot of success in this league."

One is Williams, whose return ensures a circus-like media atmosphere when Camp Saban opens. It's uncertain whether the 2002 NFL rushing champion will address reporters about his decision to retire, his ensuing trips to Australia and India, his studies of holistic healing and yoga, his violations of the league's substance abuse program, or his strained relationship with the teammates he left in the lurch a year ago.

"Ricky understands that he has some fences to mend," said his agent, Leigh Steinberg.

Saban said he decided Williams deserved another chance despite the risk of souring team chemistry.

"It's a problem only if we let it become a problem," Saban said. "I don't think there's any question he has shown the ability to play effective football in this league."

Williams' return overshadows the anticipated absence Monday of another running back. Ronnie Brown, the No. 2 pick in the draft, is likely to miss the start of camp because he's waiting for top pick Alex Smith to sign with San Francisco before reaching a deal with the Dolphins.

"That's just the way the system is," Saban said.




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