Nick Saban landed to chants of "Roll Tide," then stepped off the airplane and made the long trek across the tarmac to greet throngs of screaming Alabama fans.
That feverish reception Wednesday kicked off a "new era" for the Crimson Tide under a coach they're hoping will finally restore the program to championship heights.
Alabama lured Saban from the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday, ending five weeks of denials and two days of deliberation. Saban, who two weeks ago declared "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," accepted the Tide's job offer job and abandoned his attempt to rebuild the Dolphins after only two seasons.
His agreement with Alabama is for eight years and a guaranteed $32 million, according to ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli. Saban can earn an additional $700,000 to $800,000 annually in bowl-game bonuses. An Alabama official told ESPN's Joe Schad that the deal contains no buyout clause.
"When I set out on this search, I noted that I was seeking a coach who has a proven record of championship success and achievement," Alabama athletic director Mal Moore said. "Coach Saban brings that proven record of accomplishment and leadership to our program."
Moore said the high-profile hiring "signifies a new era of Crimson Tide football." Alabama scheduled a news conference for Thursday at 11 a.m. ET to formally introduce Saban, who didn't field questions from reporters.
Saban was greeted by hugs, handshakes and pats on the back by some of the several hundred fans celebrating the dramatic conclusion to a five-week search to replace the fired Mike Shula. Then the coach, wife Terry and daughter Kristen were driven away in a red Chevrolet Tahoe with Moore to the football building. He was greeted there by dozens more fans.
The Tuscaloosa News put out a special edition trumpeting the hiring, with the blaring headline: "SABAN TIME."
"Mal Moore didn't just hit a home run, he hit a grand slam," raved Tide fan Mike Ryan, sporting a Bear Bryant-style houndstooth hat and a T-shirt listing the program's national championship years.
Miami owner Wayne Huizenga was informed of the decision in a meeting Wednesday at Saban's house. Huizenga announced the departure at a news conference Saban didn't attend.
"It is what it is," Huizenga said, borrowing Saban's pet phrase. "I'm not upset, because it's more involved than what you think."
Since late November, Saban had issued frequent, angry public denials of interest in moving to Tuscaloosa. Huizenga said the change of heart wasn't driven by money, and Saban never sought a raise or contract extension.
Instead, Huizenga hinted that family issues for Saban and his wife, Terry, were a factor. The Sabans, both natives of West Virginia, have a son in college and a daughter in high school.
"I've been through this with Nick for quite some time now, and I feel the pain and so forth and so on of Nick and Terry, and it's not a very simple thing," Huizenga said. "I think Nick's great. I'll be Nick's biggest fan. I'll be cheering for him to win that bowl game."
A preference for the college game and the campus lifestyle may have swayed Saban. He won 48 games and a national championship in five seasons at LSU and is 15-17 with the Dolphins. This was his first losing season in 13 years as a head coach.
The entire Alabama hiring process was filled with drama.