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Wisch: Should The Bears Be Looking At Nick Saban?

By Dave Wischnowsky-

(CBS) The question these days isn't who are the Chicago Bears interviewing for their head coaching job. Rather, it's who aren't they?

So far, the list of candidates for Lovie Smith's old gig seems to stretch longer than a 4th-and-40 play. According to reports, general manager Phil Emery spent part of Monday interviewing the Bears' special teams coordinator Dave Toub for the team's head coaching vacancy on Monday.

In his search to find a monster fit for the Midway, Emery seems to be sizing up every just about every guy who's worn a whistle around his neck during the past five years. He might interview a referee next. But after watching Alabama make Notre Dame look like a Leprechaun during a 42-14 rout in the BCS Championship Game on Tuesday night, I'm wondering whether Emery should size up yet another candidate.

Is Nick Saban worth a look?

The grim-faced Crimson Tide coach, who doesn't seem to be happy unless he has something to be mad about, indeed had plenty to be angry about during his first go-around in the NFL.

One year after winning a national championship at LSU in 2004, Saban spent a two-season stint coaching the Miami Dolphins. But during 2005 and 2006 in South Beach, Saban went only 15-17 and quickly bolted back to the SEC, where he's now led Alabama to an incredible three national titles in the past four years.

When Saban took the Miami job, it was just one year after he reportedly turned down an offer to coach the Bears. In January 2004, Bears GM Jerry Angelo and team president Ted Philips traveled south to Baton Rouge to pitch the Bears job to Saban just days after his LSU Tigers had won the BCS championship. Angelo and Saban had a history together, having coached on the same Syracuse staff during the 1970s. But the Bears GM wasn't able to lure his former colleague to Chicago.

According to reports at the time, Saban wanted $4 million per year as well as control of the team's 53-man roster. The Bears were unwilling to meet either demand, and instead of making Saban an offer that he couldn't refuse, they made him one that he easily could. The Bears hired Lovie Smith instead. And, well, you know the rest.

Now, had the Bears hired Saban, it's entirely possible that he could have experienced the same failure in Chicago that he did in Miami and ended up heading to Alabama either way. Perhaps Saban simply wasn't ready to coach in the NFL back in 2005. But perhaps he also would find greater success during a return to the league.

After all, Pete Carroll wasn't exactly a smash hit when he compiled a mediocre 33-31 record in four seasons of coaching the New York Jets and New England Patriots during the 1990s. Carroll left the pros after flaming out with the Pats, resurfaced in college and went on to compile an 83-19 record at USC, including two national titles.

In 2010, Carroll then returned for an NFL encore in Seattle. And after a pair 7-9 campaigns, he guided the Seahawks to an 11-5 record this year and a first-round playoff win over Washington. Seattle now faces Atlanta in the NFC Divisional round on Sunday.

On Tuesday afternoon, my friend Ryan and I were discussing college coaches returning to the NFL, and he pointed out that Carroll is a very different type of coach than Saban. The former USC hotshot's easy-going style contrasts starkly with Saban's taskmaster approach, and it's entirely possible that Saban simply isn't cut out to coach NFL players.

Perhaps he knows that. Or perhaps he's accomplished everything that can be accomplished at the college level and has an itch to take another shot at the NFL glory.

I'm not convinced that Saban does belong in the pros, nor is it my preference that the Bears hire another defensive-minded coach. But, considering his resume, if Nick is willing to listen, it's probably worth it for Emery and the Bears to talk to him.

After all, they're already talking to everyone else.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago's North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

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