When Nick Saban arrived at LSU in November of 1999, the Tigers were a program that had seen modest success.
There was one national championship on the record books, a 1958 title that former head coach Paul Dietzel had led them to, and seven SEC titles—the most recent in 1988 under former head coach Mike Archer.
LSU had been to a total of 32 bowls at that point and had 15 bowl wins and 16 bowl losses.
LSU had suffered through seven losing seasons in the 1990s. It had been 10 years since LSU had won a conference championship and 41 years since they had seen a national title, and the fans were hungry.
In Saban's first season in 2000, the Tigers went 8-4 and saw an immediate improvement from the debacle of the Gerry DiNardo era, which ended in 1999 with an embarrassing loss at home to an unranked Houston team.
While DiNardo had recruited well, he simply wasn't able to get the talent he brought in to produce on a consistent basis.
In 2001, his second season, Saban led his LSU program to their first SEC title in 12 years. Saban accomplished this with a roster that featured many of DiNardo's players in the starting lineup.
In 2003, just his fourth season as the head coach of the Tigers, Saban led the Tigers to a second SEC title in three years and their first national championship in 45 years.
Saban had started a rebuilding process at LSU and had brought in highly ranked recruiting classes each season. Saban also spearheaded the $15 million fundraising project to build a new student-athlete academic center, as well as a $15 million football operations center, which didn't open until after his departure.
LSU fans loved him and didn't care what any fan from any other team thought of their coach. He was their guy, and they bathed in everything that was Nick Saban.
Following the end of the 2004 college football season, Saban resigned as head coach of the LSU Tigers and went to the NFL as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. That's where the love-hate relationship began with the fans who had once worshiped the ground the coach walked on.
In 2007, after just two seasons in the NFL, a venture which produced poor results, Saban was named as the new head coach of the University of Alabama.
LSU fans suddenly became the jilted lovers in their love-hate relationship with Saban. They couldn't believe Saban would return to a team in the SEC West and compete against their beloved Bengal Tigers each year.
The fact the school was Alabama, the program who had defeated their team more than any other SEC school, only added salt to the wound.
While Saban spoke openly and very fondly of his time at LSU, Tiger fans still began to harbor a deep hatred for a once-beloved coach who had returned their program to national prominence—a position LSU hadn't enjoyed in many years.
In 2008, Saban's first return to Death Valley since resigning from LSU, eight to 10 billboards had gone up welcoming him back; however, the effigy and flames were enough to let one know the true meaning behind their signs.
The signs were part of a campaign stunt for the "Burn Bama" bonfire at Tiger Manor condominiums near the LSU campus.
Undeterred, Saban led Alabama to a 27-21 win over his former team, and the hatred of him by the LSU fans increased all the more.
Despite LSU hiring Les Miles, who has recruited well and won a national championship of his own, Tiger fans are still obsessed with the man who rebuilt their program and led them from seven losing seasons in 10 years to two SEC titles and a national championship in four years.
Miles has done everything possible to win the hearts of the Tiger faithful, but the fans continue to hold on to the memories of the coach they lost.
The hatred is so deep, an article I published was attacked and false accusations were made against me because the article noted the lack of success LSU had prior to Saban.
In the background, one can't help but hear the soul song released by Luther Ingram that hit the charts in 1972.
After all, despite their objections to the contrary, when LSU fans recall Nick Saban, they don't want to be right.
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