There was probably no way Nick Saban could have left LSU in 2004 without angering players, fans and beyond, but there are many who feel the six-time national champion did not handle the situation as well as he could have. Former LSU running back Justin Vincent shed some light on that this week.
In an interview with WFAB 9 in Baton Rouge, Vincent recalled the days before and after Saban announced he was leaving LSU to coach the Miami Dolphins. Vincent, who insists he has no hard feelings for Saban, had been away from the team leading up to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando due to a death in the family. Saban announced on Christmas Day that he was leaving LSU, but Vincent says the coach told the team just days prior that he wasn’t going anywhere. The scene that followed was “like a circus,” according to Vincent:
“I’m like, ‘Damn, this man literally just told us he wasn’t going anywhere like a couple days ago, and he’s not.’ So when I show up to Orlando, get to the airport, they pick me up and go to the hotel and check in, have a meeting, go to practice — it was just like a circus. People were just doing whatever, saying whatever, it was crazy.”
LSU players joked during a trip to SeaWorld about the irony of them hanging out with and feeding dolphins. Vincent says things were even more tense at practice before the Capital One Bowl. Vincent added, via Brad Crawford of 247Sports:
“People were talking crazy to coaches. It was one of those things where you were asking, ‘Is there a hidden camera somewhere?’ People didn’t care. They felt lied to. But I tell people all the time I don’t have any hard feelings for him. I just don’t like the way he did it.”
The Tigers lost the Capital One Bowl due to a mental error on defense, when cornerback Ronnie Prude accidentally played zone defense and was burned by an Iowa receiver. Saban confronted Prude on the field after the game. In the locker room, however, Vincent says Saban went around shaking hands with players “like it was a regular game.” Vincent felt it “wasn’t the time to be doing (that).”
There’s no great way for a successful college coach to leave a program, especially when he has to accept another job before his team has finished its season. That’s what happened with Saban at LSU, and he probably wishes in hindsight that he was more forthcoming with his players. As for the decision itself, Saban recently reminded us why it was the wrong one.