Lou Saban has been leaping from ice floe to ice floe for nearly a year, ever since he undertook the monumental challenge of restoring the University of Miami football program's prestige Dec. 27. Now he thinks he is within a leap of the shore.
That, in his terms, means having most of his personal problems behind him and being free to recruit his kind of athlete, which he began to do the very day after the Hurricanes got caught in a hurrican Saturday night - a 48-10 loss to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.
He is newly inspired from his observations of the Denver Broncos, who have just won the National Football League's AFC West title.
Saban recalled here today that the Broncos were close to failing financially when he was coach and general manager.
"We (members of the Broncos organization) pounded the streets for three months and raised $1.9 million to pay off the indebtedness on Mile High Stadium (which was then owned by the Phipps family, alos owners of the Broncos). The staduim was turned over to the city and then there was a bond issue of $3 million floated to increase the capacity.
"I was there for five years, virtually working from scratch to save the franchise. But it was just a case of working at it.
"I see some of the good defensive players are still there. The Broncos' defense has been good for years. Our problem was trying to find a quarterback; we certainly tried enough of them. John Ralston got the Broncos where they won nine and lost five last season. Red Miller has done an exceptional job this year. He got a quarterback (Craig Morton) who got the job done."
Saban had srupassing personal concerns this last year. He underwent double bypass open-heart surgery in July. His wife committed suicide in September.
"I survived a tough season," he said.
After being notified he needed the operation, Saban said, "O.K., let's get it done. I've got to play Ohio State in September."
Saban said he had known for a couple of years that he had a heart problem but did not tell anyone.
"I had pains, all the normal symptoms." he said, "I got permission from my doctor to run 3 1/2 to four miles a day. One day I had severe pains. I couldn't run a hundred yards. I had two blockages.
"Was I scared? Heck, yes. But the operation had to be done. I didn't want to stay the way I was, a walking invalid. Otherwise, there could have been a massive attack later.
"My doctor scared the hell out of me. He said.How much longer do you want to live?'"
What did the doctor say about the effect of coaching tension on his heart?
"Well I'd been doing that for 20-umpteen years. It would be awful hard to tell me not to coach. Coaching has been a great therapeutic (meaning Miami's 3-8 record)."
Saban had been married for 30 years at the time of his wife's death. There are four Saban children, aged 17 to 25.
Upon rejoining the Miami football team Sept. 1, Saban said, "I'm sure this has not been an easy week for either one of us. For me, it's going to be tough for a long time to come."
As to a schedule that included Alabama and Penn State as well as Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida State, Saban said in March, before his personal troubles began, "I'd rather play Notre Dame than Tapioca Tech."
Explaining why he didn't take a few days rest after the season ended, Saban indicated that too much recruiting time had been wasted in the past at Miami.
As to continuing to push himself physically. Saban said, "I don't run much now: I don't think I should. I keep my weight in check. I'm careful about what I eat and drink, because if you've got your health, you've got everything.
"We abuse our bodies. I hear people say they've eaten and drunk what they wanted all their lives without any problems, but what happened to me (the first hints of heart trouble) back in Buffalo a couple of years ago is in the back of my mind."