Turning Down The President

Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban directs his team during the first day of football training camp in Davie, Fla. Saturday, July 29, 2006.
Last Sunday night, Miami Dolphins' head football coach Nick Saban was invited to join President Bush for dinner. The coach turned down the president, saying he was too busy.

You've got to be awfully busy to be too busy to eat with the president. And this wasn't some big fundraising dinner. This was a casual dinner at Joe's Stone Crabs in Miami Beach.

Saban said he was just "too focused" on the team right now. Too focused? The football season hasn't even started yet! And as my grandmother would have said, "You've got to eat."

I think Saban had every right to say, "No." And I don't think he was being disrespectful. I'm just surprised that anyone is too busy to have dinner with the president. I mean, how often do you get asked? If he invited me, I'd go – even if there were a big game on TV, and if I didn't like the restaurant he was choosing. I'd TiVo the game, and get a salad.

I'm sure some people think that maybe Saban decided not to go because he disagrees with the president's politics. I've seen no evidence to support this theory.

Besides, if you disapproved of the President's policies, or if you just didn't like him, wouldn't you want to have dinner with him to give him a piece of your mind? Wouldn't you want a chance to tell him how you'd be able to run the country better than he's doing?

Perhaps Saban didn't want to join the president because it was one of those nights like we all have when we don't feel like putting on a clean pair of pants and would just rather stay home.

Or maybe we should take Saban's reason at face value. Maybe he's a focused workaholic football coach who can't take a break for anything – even dinner with the president.

But I'm concerned that this rejection is really going to bother the president. To make things worse, other heads of state might tease him about it. And I don't want our leader distracted and depressed. If you didn't like "the sneer," how do you think you're going to feel about "the pout"?

If he's like the rest of us, he can't help but wonder why this guy turned him down. It's like when the Johnsons keep saying they're busy when you invite them to dinner. Are they really busy, or is that just an excuse?

At first, Mr. Bush will probably try to rationalize it. He'll tell himself things like, "I'm not upset. I know what an important job coaching a football team is. I'm lucky he took my call," or "Maybe he was afraid he'd have to pick up the check," or "Maybe he doesn't eat shellfish."

But then the president is bound to be plagued by questions like, "Was it because I called at the last minute?" "Is he holding out for an invitation from somebody who has a more important job than I do?" "Doesn't he like my new shirt?"

By now he's consulted with Condi Rice and other advisors, so what's the president's next move?

He might write Saban a note, saying if the coach's schedule ever frees up, he should just give the president a call. But that sounds a little desperate. The president of the United States shouldn't have to beg people to eat with him. Besides, if Saban's too busy to go to dinner, he might be too busy to read and respond to the president's note. So, if he writes him and doesn't get an answer, he's likely to plummet further into despair.

Feeling understandably hurt, the president could go with the "I'll show him" approach. He could invite all the pro football coaches except Saban to dinner. Then, Saban would certainly regret his decision to snub the president. Of course, if all the other coaches say, "No," that will only make the situation worse.

My advice to the President is to just move on. Don't obsess about this. Like the rest of us, you'll never know for sure why somebody doesn't want to go to dinner with you. Just accept it.

I have some advice for Coach Saban, too: for the rest of your life, don't ever take a break from work and be seen in public having dinner. Secondly, if I were you, I'd be really careful when you fill out your tax returns.

E-mail your questions and comments to Lloyd Garver

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver