If it's intensity Michigan State wants in its football program, the Spartans apparently have found it in Nick Saban.
Saban, defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, was announced as the Spartans' new coach Saturday, replacing George Perles, who was fired three weeks ago.The appointment still needs the approval of the Board of Trustees at its meeting Friday, but that will be a formality, according to university president Peter McPherson.
"I will recommend a tested and proven coach who has broad-based experiences at both the college and professional levels, including a record of excellence at this university, McPherson said while presenting Saban at a news conference.
Saban, 43, was secondary coach and defensive coordinator for Perles from 1983-87. His "Gang Green" defense helped the Spartans win the 1987 Big Ten championship and defeat Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
During that stay in East Lansing, Saban proved an able recruiter by bringing to Michigan State such players as Percy Snow, Travis Davis and Tony Mandarich. McPherson said that was one of Saban's strongest selling points.
"Nick Saban knows how to win, that is obvious," McPherson said. "But it is even more important to us that Nick shares our commitment to academic achievement . . . and strict compliance with NCAA rules and regulations."
Saban left Michigan State over Perles' objections in 1988 to be secondary coach for the NFL's Houston Oilers. In 1990, he was head coach at the University of Toledo, leading the Rockets to a 9-2 record and the Mid-American Conference championship.
The Browns hired him away the following year. This season, Cleveland is 9-3 and Saban's defense is the best in the NFL with the lowest yield of any team. He will remain with the Browns through the completion of this season, including the playoffs.
"We feel like we're coming home," Saban said. "It's a place we loved when we were here."
Saban inherits a team that finished a disappointing 5-6 this season. He said he will review the entire program from top to bottom. That probably means few, if any, of Perles' assistants will be retained.