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Bates shows Dolphins' cupboard won't be bare for Saban

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) _ By salvaging a little success from the Miami Dolphins' sorry season, Jim Bates is giving Nick Saban something to work with.

Going into Miami's final game before Saban takes over, Bates is 3-3 as interim coach. He can finish with a winning record by beating Baltimore on Sunday, even though the best the Dolphins can do is 5-11, their worst year since 1969.

But that would be a big improvement on the team's 1-8 start before Dave Wannstedt resigned. Miami is on a winning streak for the first time this season, beating Cleveland 10-7 Sunday night after upsetting Super Bowl champion New England a week ago.

``I hope I've had an impact,'' Bates said Monday.

Players say he has, and they lobbied last week for his return as head coach. Owner Wayne Huizenga instead hired LSU's Saban, who accepted the job Saturday.

Saban signed a five-year contract on Monday, after meeting again with Huizenga and team president Eddie Jones in Orlando, Fla., where LSU is preparing for the Capital One Bowl against Iowa.

But despite the distractions and Bates' lame-duck status, he led his team to a sloppy, last-minute victory over the Browns.

It was an ugly win,'' he said.But an ugly win is a win.''

The late-season surge has cost Saban any shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft next April. But it has also shown there may be the foundation for a quick turnaround by a long-proud franchise enduring its first losing season in 16 years.

The improved play of A.J. Feeley suggests he may be Miami's quarterback of the future. He has overcome a tendency to commit critical turnovers, throwing no interceptions in the past two games. And in both victories, he directed the winning drive in the final two minutes.

We're getting better every week from when Jim took over,'' Feeley said.The offense has been living up to their end of the bargain.''

The offensive line, the biggest weakness the past two years, has provided better protection and bigger holes for the running backs in recent games. And the defense has held together despite a rash of injuries, with several youngsters contributing.

Most impressive is that the Dolphins keep playing hard, despite circumstances that would prompt many teams to fold.

We have seven days left in the season,'' Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor said.You won't see any quit in us until Jan. 3.''

That's the day after the final game, when Saban is expected in South Florida for an introductory news conference. Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said Monday night that nothing is formally scheduled yet.

Big changes are in store, with substantial turnover expected on the roster and coaching staff. Saban will assume full authority over the football operation, meaning much-maligned general manager Rick Spielman is likely to depart or be demoted.

The future is uncertain even for employees on the support staff, from medical personnel to the publicity department. That will make for an emotional week as the Dolphins prepare to conclude their dismal season.

Every year you know when you go into the last game that this will be the last time the team will be together,'' Bates said.This year will be more emotional than ever, because it involves everybody associated with the Dolphins.''

One holdover may be Bates, a candidate for his former job of defensive coordinator. He and Saban were on the Cleveland Browns' staff together in 1991-93 and remain friends.

I have not talked to Nick, but I know he's with me, and I'm with him,'' Bates said.We're good enough friends. We will talk.''

Regardless of whether Bates returns as an assistant, he said he's grateful for his two months as interim coach _ and for the way the players responded. His only other head coaching stints were in 1985 in the USFL, and in 1969-71 at a high school in Tennessee.

To have the players' support is as rewarding as anything I can have,'' he said.You can get all the kudos and everything from the outside, but when you get it from within, that's the most satisfying thing. When I leave this position, that will be something that I will always carry with me as long as I live. This has been a very rewarding time.''

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