Despite the fact that speculation was rampant the past few weeks that Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban could leave the NFL and return to the college ranks at Alabama, at least one of his former LSU players was still a bit startled to see Saban leave the pros after just two seasons on the job.
"I'm a little surprised because it happened so fast, but at the same time I kind of figured it was headed in that direction," said Bills tight end Robert Royal.
Royal, who played his last two years of college ball for Saban at LSU, and helped the Tigers win the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl as a senior, believes his former coach has a better handle for the college game.
"Coach Saban is familiar with the college system and the way you can recruit and get the guys that you want to come play for you and buy into the system," said Royal "So I figured it would go in the direction it has."
For Bills running back Shaud Williams, Saban's decision to become Alabama's head coach is good news for the former Crimson Tide tailback.
"I'm pretty excited about it," said Williams. "He's got a good track record. He's coached a lot of good teams and he has a national championship so I'm excited about it. I'm hoping he gets that program back on track."
Royal, who set a career high in receptions and receiving yards this past season, believes that Saban may have found free agency, contract negotiations and the salary cap in the NFL too restrictive in trying to build a perennial winner. Royal also feels Saban's strict coaching style could wear thin on today's pro athletes.
"I think it is due to the demands that he puts on the players and the coaches," Royal said. "It's pretty extreme and obviously when you're coaching college kids you have a little more leeway because guys are playing more for the love of the game. Now he doesn't have to deal with contract negotiations and free agency where you're losing players and players are moving in and out of the system. It's tougher to build a program up in the pros as opposed to college. He likes to build things steadily and in college he can do that."
Williams also thinks there was another important motivating factor.
"I think the money may have had a little something to do with it," said Williams laughing. "But of course if you have a chance to coach anywhere in that conference it's a good job because it's such a strong conference and a lot of good players come out of the SEC. That may be another thing that attracted him. He knows he can recruit the talent necessary to become one of the elite programs in the country."
Naturally the positive for Royal, Williams and their Bills teammates is that their division rival Miami will be undergoing some potentially big offseason changes as they try and fill the void left by Saban.
"I guess the rest of the league will now look at the Dolphins similar to the way they looked at us going into our first year under coach Jauron," said Williams. "There will probably be some changes and a little bit of rebuilding. I'm sure that's something our coaching staff will keep an eye on. Guys get paid to play so they're going to come out and play no matter who their coach is. So whether it's down there or at Ralph Wilson Stadium I don't think it really matters who the coach is going to be. The Dolphins are going to come ready to play."
"Of course we don't mind that he's out of the division due to the things he's accomplished as a coach," said Royal of Saban. "But I'm sure Miami is going to do a good job of bringing in somebody that's capable to help make them a winning team again. We definitely know we'll still have our hands full with them."
Royal found the timing for Saban's decision a bit ironic with his former college team LSU playing in the Sugar Bowl tonight against Notre Dame.
"I'm going to this game tonight and watch my LSU Tigers run past these Fighting Irish," said Royal who is in New Orleans for the game. "Hopefully we can scare coach Saban in his preparation to face the LSU Tigers next season."