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Saban in the planning stage

All Nick Saban knows about expectations is that he has none. What the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins has is something more important. He has a plan.

"Everybody wants to always talk about expectations," Saban said. "I think, from a technical standpoint, when you're a coach, you're not as focused on the expectations as you are on the process and the things you need to do to get there. You don't worry as much about the results as you do about trying to take whatever you have and develop it as well as you can and keep adding the parts to it that continually improve it.

"I think the most important thing is that we can't go out and do a bunch of crazy stuff and expect to compete. I'm talking more from a salary cap and business standpoint. To have patience and develop players through the draft in the future, I think that's critical because you can mortgage the future if you try and be good right now and really put yourself in harm's way down the road.

"It's not about one-year expectations. I don't operate with expectations. I operate with the discipline of a systematic approach to try to create a dominant team, long-term, that can win with consistency. Bill [Belichick] didn't win in his first year and nobody banished him from the face of the earth, so I don't fear banishment. My pressure comes from me and the quality of work that we do. It doesn't always come from winning or losing." Many in the NFL expect Saban to rebuild the Dolphins the way his old mentor, Belichick, rebuilt the Patriots: with sound personnel decisions, strong drafting, attention to detail, control of the salary cap, and high-level coaching. But Saban has inherited what appears to be a deteriorating situation, a team with question marks at quarterback, holes on defense, and a glaring problem with its prodigal son, Ricky Williams."Every task I've ever taken on has been a challenge," Saban said. "Michigan State was 2-9 and on probation with 71 guys. LSU had three winning seasons in the last 12 years and everybody said, `Why are you taking that job? You've got to be crazy.' But you just kind of keep chopping wood and trying to get where you want to get. It's not going to happen overnight. "Do I want to win every game this season? Absolutely. Are fans going to be upset if we don't win every game next year? Absolutely. Are they going to be more upset than me when we lose? Absolutely not. It's important everybody understands what we're trying to do so people can be supportive of it."

Of all the people who need that kind of understanding, none seems more important to the Dolphins' future than their mercurial running back. Williams abandoned his team a year ago, only days before training camp. The Dolphins fell apart. Now, no one knows whether Williams will be back or whether he's wanted.

Even Saban concedes he doesn't have a plan when it comes to Williams.

"Basically, all we're trying to do is, `Look, if you want to come back and play football, it's your decision,' " said the coach, who has had at least one conversation with Williams. " `It's your choice to do that. If you're willing to do the things you need to do to do that, you have an opportunity to do that.'

"The guy has obviously been a very productive player and obviously had some issues surrounding him based on the past. We would all have to work and improve those issues to see what his possibilities are. Whether he wants to do all those things I think is kind of his decision.

"If he showed he was committed to coming back and wanting to be a productive player, that's the only issue with me." The Dolphins need Williams or somebody like him, but that is not all they need. But before they can get what they need, they must figure out what Williams needs, and whether or not his needs are compatible with Saban's. "I think, basically, in situations like this, you have to have contingency plans," said Saban. "It's not very prudent to count on the what-ifs, so to speak. I think that's the fair thing to do from an organizational standpoint. Now, the decision that gets made in the future? I don't have a crystal ball." Two months into his first season as an NFL coach, Saban has no expectations, no crystal ball, and no Ricky Williams. So he keeps on working, plans for today, expects nothing but believes in everything.

"I think a lot of the players on our team have been exposed to winning for a long time," Saban said. "So it's not like they don't know what it takes, haven't been there. When you talk to the guys, they talk about the things that were missing, that had been there when they were successful. And they all want to get back to that.

"A lot of it is intangible, in terms of their commitment to the kind of effort and hard work and discipline and relentless competitiveness, but it's not like these guys have never won before. It's not like I've gone to Northwestern or some place in the Big Ten where they don't understand what it takes."

No, Nick Saban has gone to Miami, believing he has players who know what it takes to win and one player who isn't yet sure whether the price of winning is higher than he wants to pay.

Eagles' Reid becomes world-famous

Eagles coach Andy Reid learned on vacation after his team's Super Bowl loss to New England that there's no escaping the NFL.

"I went to Peter Island," Reid recalled. "Peter Island is down in the British Virgin Islands. It's an island that is about 8 miles long. There's one complex there, 52 rooms. And it's beautiful. You either get on it by helicopter or boat from Tortola. We went Philly-San Juan, San Juan-Tortola, boat over, then we took a helicopter back. We're sitting there, and I'm saying, `We're away from the world right now.'

"Say we got down there on Sunday. On Wednesday, after laying around, feeling great, Wednesday we're down at the beach restaurant. It's a great setting, and these boats come pulling in, yachts come pulling in, and a big catamaran, a four-bedroom catamaran comes pulling in, and the people, they get off in their little dinghies and they come in, go to the restaurants, the spa, whatever. And this is one of those places where the people have the shorts, and they have the cuffs on the shorts. It's one of those places that I don't quite fit into, but it's one of those kind of places.

"So this dinghy comes pulling in, and all these people crammed into this dinghy, and I just happened to be watching this and they cruise up and they're looking back at me like this, and I'm like, `Oh, Elvis sighting,' one of those deals. So they get out, and right in front of this whole restaurant they start going, `E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!' and I'm going, `Yeah!' It was classic.

"They were out of control. They're crazy. We were taking pictures. We were best friends. They wanted me to get on that yacht of theirs and go back with them."

That wasn't the only time this offseason that Reid was taught the power of NFL exposure.

"You know the [Broadway] show, `Wicked'?" Reid asked. "We're up there, and the star of the show, the green witch, she falls down a trap door, breaks a rib. So she's down. There was a lull in the action and these people are staring at me and I'm going, `OK, they're probably from Philly.' So we get out of `Wicked' and we're walking out and getting a cab to go back to the hotel, and all of a sudden, `E-A-G . . .' They're going crazy. It was a bunch of Philly people. They were awesome."

Unflagging admiration for a Patriot

New York Jets coach Herman Edwards says he's confused over the apparent lack of understanding about what the Patriots have at quarterback in Tom Brady.

"You know going into a game that there is not a lot of room for error," Edwards said. "The key is, their quarterback is a very underrated quarterback in my estimation. The guy is the best quarterback in the playoffs.

"When he has to make a throw, he makes the throw. They've got a quarterback who's going to the Hall of Fame and a coach who's going to the Hall. They've got the best quarterback in the playoffs. Just watch him. They play in a close game, they don't flinch. They know in their minds if they play 10 games close, they'll win nine.

"As an opponent, late in the game, you know Brady is going to make the play so you better make one. He has a calmness about himself. The game is always at one speed for him. First quarter. Fourth quarter. He doesn't panic. He waits and he waits and eventually he's going to get you."

Etc.

`Probable' cause

According to several head coaches who were in the room last week at the NFL meetings in Hawaii, Bill Belichick made a prolonged and profane defense of his listing Richard Seymour as "probable" on the injury report in a week when Seymour did not travel with the team for the game. The league fined Belichick for that and is now mandating that if a player doesn't travel, he'd better not be listed as "probable" on the final injury report. According to people in the room, Belichick said he had been unfairly fined because he didn't violate league rules, and it was team business anyway. Many of his colleagues disagreed.

No piling on next time

If Ricky Williams were to return to the Dolphins, new coach Nick Saban said he would use him differently than former coach Dave Wannstedt did. Wannstedt ran Williams like a plow horse for two years, something that Williams said contributed to his decision to retire last summer.

"I think he would be very effective with what we're talking about, maybe more effective," Saban said.

"I don't think you have to play `wad ball' for him to be effective. You know what `wad ball' is? Everybody gets wadded up in a pile in the middle of the field and you plunge it into the middle of it and let him run over everybody. "That's what we played when I was in high school. We ran a T-formation and all 11 guys were within 5 yards of the ball and you went, `Whooom.' Everybody dove in the pile at the end. It was a different style of play. I liked it because I was a safety and I could always be the last guy jumping on the pile. I didn't have to hit anybody.

"When I was the quarterback, I just handed it off and never got hit much. And when they all got stuffed up in there, I would keep it and run around the end and there would be nobody out there. It was great."

Money talks, team walks

It might seem shocking that the Arizona Cardinals agreed to give up a regular-season home game to play the 49ers in Mexico City, but economics dictated it was worth giving up home-field advantage to play in front of a crowd. Arizona attracted fewer than 36,000 fans to five of its eight home games last season. The league is hoping for a crowd of 100,000 in Azteca Stadium, which would mean a lucrative payday for each team.

Split formation

Legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs has gone back to being a consultant for the Falcons. Gibbs will live in Arizona after training camp is over, and work in Atlanta on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the season. "I'd rather have him in this capacity than not have him at all," said Falcons head coach Jim Mora.

James not in it for long run

According to Colts owner Jimmy Irsay, this will very likely be running back Edgerrin James's last season in Indianapolis. James has been named the team's franchise player and will receive $8.1 million this season, but Irsay said he did not believe he would sign James to a long-term deal because he wants to spend more money on the defensive side of the ball.

Confusing game of tag

The Seattle Seahawks face a similar situation with the league's No. 2 rusher last season, Shaun Alexander. He, too, has been "franchised" and is not happy about it, which was difficult for coach Mike Holmgren to fathom, considering the price tag. "By signing [Pro Bowl left tackle] Walter Jones, it allowed us to use the tag on Shaun," Holmgren said. "Unfortunately, you tag somebody and it's like you put him in prison. It never was [intended] that way. It was an honor. You are paying them, in my opinion, a compliment. Unfortunately, the players don't look at it that way."

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