BATON ROUGE, La. -- Telling his Michigan State team that he was leaving to become LSU's football coach was the hardest thing he's ever done professionally, Nick Saban said on Tuesday.
Hard maybe, lucrative certainly, but perhaps more importantly for an ambitious young coach anxious to build on his reputation, a change that could make him the toast of football-crazy LSU and the terror of the football-driven Southeastern Conference.
"I liked the challenge of this football program," Saban said. "I think there is great tradition. I think the Southeastern Conference is a very competitive, outstanding football conference. There's a challenge to being part of that conference that kind of intrigued me."
Saban, who earned $697,330 a year at Michigan State, agreed to a five-year rollover contract at LSU with a base salary of $250,000, and will be paid an additional $550,000 for radio, television and internet appearances, plus additional supplemental pay that will bring his total yearly package to $1.2 million a year.
"Security is always something that's important to you and to your family," Saban said. "But it's not the reason I came here."
Michigan State spokesman Terry Denbow said Michigan State conducted "absolutely no bidding war" in order to keep Saban.
"This was an opportunity for Nick and his family, both professional and personal, and we wish him the best of luck at LSU," Denbow said.
Saban said he had two firm offers to leave Michigan State previously, for the NFL's New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, but was not interested in moving until LSU came calling. The school is in the midst of a major building program which will add 11,000 new seats, including 70 new suites, at Tiger Stadium, boosting stadium capacity to 91,700.
The stadium will be the fourth-largest on-campus stadium in the nation and Saban is tied with two other coaches as the third-highest paid coach. More importantly, he said, he will be at the No. 1 program in the state.
"At Michigan State we were never No. 1," Saban said. "That was always Michigan. It was always UM this or that. If I'd gone to Ohio it would have been Ohio State, Indiana it's Purdue, Chicago it's every other school in the Big 10. In the east it's Penn State. Wherever you go you're looking at someone else when you're recruiting, trying to catch up, trying to convince someone you're up there."
Saban was at Michigan State for 10 years, first as the defensive coordinator and for the past five years as the coach. He has a 43-26-1 record as a college coach and a 34-24-1 record at Michigan State. This year Saban guided No. 10 Michigan State to a 9-2 record, a second-place finish in the Big Ten and a Citrus Bowl berth -- the Spartans' first Jan. 1 game since the Gator Bowl in 1989. Saban was unsure Tuesday if he would coach that game. He said he would talk with the Michigan State administration about who should coach the team in the bowl game and the decision would be up to them.
LSU finished this season 3-8, their second straight losing record. Gerry DiNardo was fired with one game remaining.
There were other problems for LSU as well -- players arrested, players suspended, players quitting the team.
"This is the players' team," Saban said. "I'm the coach and I want the players to take some responsibility and ownership for all the areas that are important in building the team. How they play is just one of those areas."