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Old friends square off in Miami

Good friends Nick Saban and Bill Belichick will face each other for the first time on Sunday as NFL head coaches with first place in the AFC East on the line.

Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have been through a lot together. When he was named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, one of Belichick's first moves was to hire Saban as his defensive coordinator. Since the two were on the same staff in Cleveland over a decade ago, both coaches have gone on to enjoy a great deal of success.

Belichick first met Saban when he was a secondary coach at Ohio State in 1980 and Belichick was scouting Buckeye players for the Giants, where he was the defensive coordinator at the time. Saban then served on the same staff as Belichick's father at the Naval Academy before becoming the defensive coordinator at Michigan State in 1983.

"We're friends and we come from the same coaching philosophy," Belichick said. "The things he runs I understand and the thing I run he understands."

After serving as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers for two years, Saban's first head coaching position came at the University of Toledo in 1990. Saban led the Rockets to a 9-2 record and co-champions of the Mid-American Conference in his one season at Toledo.

In 1991, Belichick was named the head coach in Cleveland and he plucked Saban away from Toledo to be his defensive coordinator. Saban had a tall order in front of him, taking over a Browns defense that gave up 462 points the year before his arrival.

"He came in and took over a defense that wasn't very good and made them competitive in less than a year, really," Belichick said. "We weren't very good as a team but Nick had our defense playing well that first year and by 1994, we led the NFL in points allowed."

In Saban's fourth season as defensive coordinator, the Browns ranked seventh in the league in total defense and allowed an NFL-low 202 points. Four members of that Browns defense were selected to the Pro Bowl in 1994 and during his four-year stint in Cleveland, Saban's defenses never gave up more than 19.2 points per game in a season.

Belichick isn't surprised that Saban went on to be a successful head coach after the time they spent together in Cleveland.

"I think he does everything well," Belichick said. "I have known Nick well for the past 15 years and it was a great experience for me to coach with him. He's a great motivator, he's smart and he understands the big picture."

Before coming to Miami, Saban spent five seasons at Louisiana State University. During his tenure at LSU, he led the Tigers to a 48-16 record, including a National Championship in 2003. LSU registered at least eight wins in each of Saban's five seasons and also won two SEC titles over that span.

Now Saban finds himself in the AFC East where he has to battle his good friend twice a year. Belichick is happy Saban finally got an NFL head coaching job but he isn't excited about facing him every season.

"It's hard when you are in the same division," Belichick said. "Teams in your division are different because really you are up against them 365 days a year, so it's tough."

Saban has the Dolphins playing hard in his first season as head coach. The team is tied for second place in the AFC East with a record of 3-5 and boasts wins over the Broncos and Panthers. The Dolphins are no longer the pushovers they were a year ago.

Belichick said the Dolphins defense is much different under Saban than the defenses they've run since he's been in New England.

"They couldn't be anymore different," he said comparing the Dolphins defense of 2005 to previous seasons. "Nick blitzes more in one game than they (Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt) would in an entire season. If I had to describe the Dolphins defense in two words, it would be "multiple" and "pressure. They give you a lot of different looks and a lot of different things to worry about."

Saban and Belichick will square off on opposite sidelines for the first time in their career this Sunday. The two long-time friends won't have time to sit around reminiscing about the past, however. At stake is first place in the AFC East and for the struggling Patriots, a chance to rebound from an embarrassing loss to the Colts.

Brown emerging as a star for the Dolphins
After rushing for only 92 yards on 34 carries in his first two games, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown has turned it up piling up 519 yards and three touchdowns over his last six games. The second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft has also caught 17 passes for 116 yards.

Brown's best performance to date was a 132-yard performance against Carolina on Sept. 25. Brown became the sixth rookie in Dolphins history to rush for two or more 100-yard games in a season when he topped the century mark against the Saints two weeks ago.

Belichick praised Brown at his Wednesday press conference, saying the rookie was the most complete back the team has faced since LaDainian Tomlinson. That is high praise seeing the Patriots have played Warrick Dunn, Tatum Bell, Mike Anderson, Willis McGahee and Edgerrin James since their loss to the Chargers.

Miami leads the all-time series with the Patriots 45-31, including a 30-7 record in Miami. New England has won only once in Miami dating back to 1997…The Patriots enter their game with the Dolphins ranking 31st in total defense and 27th in both pass and rush defense…Tom Brady has a career record of 14-4 as a starter following a Patriots loss…Belichick said on Wednesday the team has made no roster moves at this time.

Due to the Monday night game against the Colts, Ask PFW will not be posted this week. The column will return to on Tuesday.

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