The private investigator on the line was coy.
"I got a tape for you," he said, "but I don't want my name anywhere near it."
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Trouble," he replied. "Pestilence. Apocalypse. Diarrhea. A Nagging Case of Bursitis. You name it."
"Why did you call me?"
"H. Wayne Huizenga hired me to track that degenerate SOB who left South Florida for Alabama."
"You really do know your stuff. Yeah, Nick Saban. Huizenga wanted to know whether his coach was gonna bolt, so he put me on him. I had a guy following him in his car and got into his house and bugged his lamps and phones. I dug through his trash and looked through his windows. The guy's not cool."
"What did you find out?"
"For one thing, he watches a lot of Deal or No Deal, and he usually roots for the dealer."
"And he pops his chewing gum like a firing range."
"God, I hate that."
"I had to live it. That popping sound will haunt my dreams until the day I die. He also likes to wear loafers without socks, the repulsive son of a bitch. I got more eyefuls of his well-tanned ankles than I would wish even on my worst enemy."
"That's not why I called you. I have a tape that the world needs to hear. I thought you could get it out there."
"What is it?"
"A phone conversation between Saban and Pat Riley on the day before they both quit as coaches. You won't believe what they say."
"Riley talked with Saban about leaving the Heat?"
"You better believe it. I'm sending the tape to New Times now, and then I'm leaving town for a while. Me and Wayne had a little falling out, and unfortunately, he draws a little more water around here than I do."
And that was it. The man called Diarrhea was gone, and I still have no idea where he ran to. But the P.I. was honest. Sure enough, the amazing tape, which explains a lot about recent events in the South Florida sports world, made it to my mailbox. I've transcribed it in full below:
Riley: Nick, that you?
Saban: Pat? How you doing?
Riley: Called to ask the same about you. You're all over the news.
Saban: Yeah, four years and $32 million, but hey, I'm not interested in the Alabama job at all.
[Both men laugh loud and hard]
Saban: Plus I've had such a great two years in the NFL why would I ever want to leave?
[Another chorus of laughter]
Riley: You're a pip, Nick. Listen, I don't blame you for leaving. If my happiness rested on the play of Daunte Culpepper, I'd bolt too.
Saban: Yeah, I'm announcing tomorrow that I'm outta here. Wayne thinks I'm going to tell him in person, but I'm just gonna give him a phone call.
Riley: What about the players?
Saban: Players? Oh yeah, you mean the guys that I coached and became like family for the past two years? They make a lot of money and have big-screen TVs. They'll hear about it on the news.
Riley: How do you think Huizenga will take it?
Saban: I don't know. He's weird when it comes to football. Guy builds a billion-dollar empire, but he's dumb as a brick when it comes to the pigskin.
Riley: Well, you should have known that. He hired you, didn't he?
Saban: Good one, Pat. I'm so glad to get out of this place. But I'm trying to figure out how to sell it to the public.
Riley: First rule of thumb: Never tell the truth. Say it's for family reasons. People won't question it so much. Remember Stan Van Gundy?
Saban: Gotta love the fam. It's like an excuse factory.
Riley: Tell them you wanted to save your teenaged daughter from the FCAT.
Saban: Brilliant. Or that I wanted to give her a dose of some good ol' 'Bama values.
Riley: Like racism and ignorance.
Saban: C'mon, Pat, Tuscaloosa's full of good people. Hell, you went to Kentucky. Salt of the Earth. I think you've been in L.A. and Miami too long.
Riley: Maybe. I know I left my soul somewhere out there. Seriously, Nick, I think I'm gonna leave the Heat.
Saban: I could have called that one. You gotta be miserable. Antoine Walker makes Daunte Culpepper look like Tom Brady. That lifetime winning percentage you built up with Magic and Kareem is dwindling away.
Riley: I'm gonna blame it on health problems.
Saban: Well, you wouldn't be leaving if Wade and Shaq were healthy, right?
Riley: No, my own. I got a bum hip. It's my ace in the hole. And I really do think that if I keep coaching this bunch of losers, it'll kill me.
Saban: But Wade and Shaq will be back.
Riley: Exactly. Once they get back and clicking and they're ready for a playoffs run, I'll come back to the bench. I'm only going to take a leave of absence.
Riley: Definitely indefinite.
Saban: Brilliant! You avoid the grind of the season and then come back just in time to leech off Wade's glory. You're my idol, Pat.
Riley: Hey, it worked for me before. Remember when I ran the team into the ground back a few years ago? I quit, became president, and let Van Gundy do the dirty work. Then I fired the roly-poly bastard just in time to win my fifth championship.
Saban: You didn't fire him Pat! He stepped down for the children.
[Raucous laughter on the line]
Riley: Before I forget, I need to ask you a favor.
Saban: Whatever you want, Kemo Sabe.
Riley: Well, since you're leaving tomorrow, I thought I'd announce that I was bailing from the Heat at the same time.
Saban: You really are a master. With everybody focusing their hatred and ire on me, you'll crawl off under the radar, virtually unnoticed. I'm telling you, Pat, these sportswriters hate me with a vengeance, mainly because I was secretive about the team and basically treated them like shit.
Riley: Who knows, me leaving might take some of the heat off you too. Kind of spread it around a little.
Saban: Where have you been all my life, Pat?
Riley: Ain't it great to be dishonest and irresponsible?
Saban : It's the only path to success, my friend.
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