Do you like Nick Saban? Can you? That's the question for the equipment manager, and he tells of arriving for work early one morning at the same time as the coach. It was still dark outside. Quiet.
The equipment manager, Tony Egues, reached the door to the Dolphins complex first, held it open for his boss and then said the two words that came to symbolize Saban's scarred Dolphins legacy.
"Morning, coach,'' he said.
Egues, who is no longer with the team, doesn't remember if Saban answered. What he remembers is Saban's lieutenant, Scott O'Brien, nicknamed "Dr. Doom," soon telling him never speak to the coach unless addressed first. Ever. Got it?
We choose stories to stand for people in sports. This one of simple, daily etiquette came to symbolize Saban's two years to many inside the team. Late Dolphins radio voice Jim Mandich was given the same cease-to-greet order by Dr. Doom. Rule No. 1 it became known by in Dolphins offices. Rule No 2?
"He wants to be called, 'Coach Saban,' and not, 'Nick,' '' Dr. Doom would tell them.
As Saban returns to South Florida an Alabama coaching legend for Monday's BCS Championship Game, there are more Saban stories swirling around the stadium where he'll try to win his fourth college title, good and bad, for him and against, involving bigger people and more public incidents.
Dolphins great Jason Taylor calls him, "maybe the best coach I ever had." Former receiver Chris Chambers calls him, "a dictator." And that's just it, there isn't a story that sums up Saban. There are sides of him, plural.
The raw and real and ridiculously insensitive is all true. Pick a story. Dolphins employees were ordered not to walk in the corridor outside his office – take the long way around – so as not to disturb him.
He famously stepped right over guard Jeno James, convulsing on the locker room floor after practice in a heat stroke, even as teammates rushed to help James.
When team videographer Dave Hack was hit by lightning on a hydraulic platform high above a practice field in 2005, players rushed to help as the platform descended. Team executive Bryan Wiedmeier rode with Hack in the ambulance to the hospital.
Assistant coach Mel Phillips was at the hospital when the ambulance door opened. Former coach Don Shula and team owner H. Wayne Huizenga called. Officials from other teams expressed concern for Hack, who was fine after the incident.
"To this day, I've not heard one word from Saban,'' Hack says from retirement. "I mean, I don't really care. But isn't that strange?"
You want more? A practice scrimmage in 2005. Linebacker Zach Thomas, as popular and dedicated as any Dolphin ever, got into a small spat with linebackers coach George Edwards.
Thomas did something wrong in a particular defense. Edwards corrected him from the sideline. Thomas yelled to correct him later. Get on with the scrimmage, Thomas said.
Saban stopped practice. He stomped toward Thomas.
"Next time a coach is talking to you, you shut the f--- up!" he yelled.
Thomas yelled for Saban to shut up, that he wasn't some kid. "I'm a grown-ass man!" Thomas roared, ripping off his helmet. They got in each other's face. Teammates pulled Thomas back.
"I will bench you!" Saban yelled.
"Bench me!" Thomas yelled.