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.
The high ranking source told Schad that Alabama made an offer to West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez despite knowing that Saban would be very willing to listen after the season.
In fact, Alabama had knowledge that Saban was very interested as early as the middle of this NFL season, the source said.
According to the source, Saban finally told Moore on Tuesday afternoon that he would fly to Alabama that day to be introduced as coach. Saban, his wife and kids had packed their bags as Moore waited outside Saban's home. But a delay prompted Moore to call at least one Alabama trustee to say he feared they'd lost another candidate.
Saban did in fact then say he needed another night to ponder the offer, in part because of the pressure Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga was applying.
Moore's fears finally proved unfounded.
With Saban's return to the SEC, the conference now has two head coaches who have previously won national championships with a different school within it: Saban at LSU and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier at Florida (1996).
Saban also is just the sixth coach since 1970 to work at multiple SEC schools. The others: Spurrier, Bill Curry (Alabama, Kentucky), Gerry DiNardo (Vanderbilt, LSU), Steve Sloan (Vanderbilt, Mississippi) and Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss, Auburn).
The Tide first approached Saban shortly after firing Mike Shula. Huizenga has said he received repeated assurances from Saban that he would return in 2007, and two weeks ago Saban said: "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."
But when the Dolphins' 6-10 season ended Sunday, Alabama sweetened an offer that will make him the highest-paid coach in college football. He has three years remaining on his Miami contract at $4.5 million a year.
"We have been through a period of uncertainty the last month or so and we finally have some stability," Tide center Antoine Caldwell said. "Coach Moore said all along he was going to find us a proven coach with a winning record and he has done that with Coach Saban."
The timing was significant since the NCAA's recruiting "dead period" ends Friday.
In the past, Huizenga has been persuasive when dealing with coaches. He talked Don Shula into retirement in 1996, talked Jimmy Johnson out of retiring three years later -- Johnson lasted one more season -- and was able to lure Saban to the pros in 2004 after other NFL teams had failed.
But this time, Huizenga failed to change Saban's mind. They met briefly on Tuesday, when Saban asked for another day to consider Alabama's offer. The coach was emotional when he called the Dolphins' complex Wednesday morning and informed his coaching staff by speakerphone that he was leaving, said Dom Capers, special assistant to the head coach.
"Every time something happens, everybody wants to look at the negative things to it," cornerback Will Allen said. "There could be some positive things. Who knows what's going to happen?"
After Saban turned down the Tide in early December, they offered the job to Rich Rodriguez, but he decided to stay at West Virginia. Alabama lost last week to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7.
Possible candidates to replace Saban include Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Pittsburgh Steelers assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhut.
Another possibility is Capers, a former head coach at Carolina and Houston.
"When opportunities present themselves, you certainly want to look at them," Capers said.
Huizenga didn't rule out hiring a college coach, as he did when Saban came to the Dolphins from Louisiana State two years ago.
"There's only one thing I want to do, and it's win," Huizenga said. "I don't care what it takes, what it costs, what's involved, we're going to make this a winning franchise. It's no fun owning a team if you're not winning, I can tell you that."
Leading the search for a coach will be Joe Bailey, chief executive officer of Dolphins Enterprises, and Brian Wiedmeier, the Dolphins' president and chief operating officer. The Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons are also seeking a new coach.
The Dolphins' next coach will be their fourth in nine seasons.
"I wish you hadn't brought that up," Huizenga said with a wry smile.
It has been a frustrating a stretch of instability for a franchise that had the same coach -- Shula -- for 26 years. Miami has failed to make the playoffs the past five years, a team record.
The Dolphins are coming off their third losing season since 1969 and face a likely roster overhaul. With Daunte Culpepper still struggling to recover from reconstructive knee surgery in 2005, Miami remains unsettled at quarterback, a troublesome position since Dan Marino retired seven years ago. The team needs upgrades in almost every other area for a feeble offense and aging defense.
Saban leaves behind the NFL's largest staff of assistants and general manager Randy Mueller, who might be given more responsibility under a new coaching regime.
The Dolphins haven't reached the AFC championship game since Huizenga became majority owner in 1994.
"All I want to figure out is how the heck we're going to win," he said. "And that's what everyone with the Dolphins wants, to win."
ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this story. Information from The Associated Press also was used.