Nick Saban says he wanted Drew Brees in Miami; Brees isn’t quite so sure

Jay Busbee

Nick Saban's sanctification as a national championship-winning coach in Alabama has largely obscured the fact that he was a washout as an NFL coach during his two years in Miami. But for Saban, that's got to rankle ... so it appears Saban, back in Miami for this year's national championship game, is doing a bit of historical damage control.

Speaking on Dan LeBatard's radio show, Saban recalled how, in 2006, his Miami Dolphins were in the market for a new quarterback, and two of the most promising candidates — Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper — were coming off injuries. The Dolphins had to pick one of the two, and they went with Culpepper ... who would play exactly four games for Miami. Brees, meanwhile, blossomed into a Super Bowl-winning field general.

Yeah, uh ... sorry about that, Dolphins fans. But to hear Saban tell it, it wasn't his fault:

"We chose Drew Brees," he told LeBatard. "I've never ever talked about this publicly. That's the guy we made the first offer to. A lot of players know this. There was a lot of loyalty in the organization and players never talked about it."

But simply showing an interest in a player is one thing. This marks the first time it's been revealed that the Dolphins actually offered a contract to Brees.

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"We thought Drew Brees was an outstanding player and that's who we made the first offer to," Saban said. "Quite frankly, you know, he didn't pass the physical with our organization so we had to go in another direction and there was nothing any of us could do about that."

Brees remembers it slightly differently. He discussed the episode in his 2010 autobiography "Coming Back Stronger." As Sports Illustrated's Peter King recounts it:

Brees had significant interest on the table from the Saints. But he wanted to find out if Saban had the same faith in him that (Sean) Payton and Mickey Loomis had in New Orleans. So Brees picked up the phone and called Saban, who told him the Miami team doctors believed Brees had a 25 percent chance to come back and be the same quarterback, or better, that he'd been before the shoulder surgery.

According to the book, Brees said to Saban: "Coach, I know what your doctors believe about me. My question is, what do you believe?''

Wrote Brees: "Nick Saban paused. That was really all I needed to hear. His pause told me everything. 'Well, Drew,' he said, 'I would still love to have you, but I have to trust what our medical people are saying ...' He went on from there, like he was reading from a script. But I was starting to tune out. By then I had all the information I needed. I had made my decision.''

Brees told Saban thanks, and he'd be going to New Orleans, even though telling Saban that might kill his negotiating position with the Saints.

As Brees told me, "The impression I get from the Dolphins was I should feel lucky they were even looking at me. It just wasn't a welcoming feeling.''

Obviously, these accounts differ only in the mood and motivation of the principals, and certainly, both Saban and Brees have reasons for angling the story in their favor. Bottom line: Brees could have been a Dolphin but wasn't. The city of New Orleans and the state of Alabama have to be glad he didn't.

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