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Saban not yet ready for takeoff

Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga flew to Baton Rouge, La., on a private plane yesterday in an attempt to convince LSU coach Nick Saban to come aboard his program. Still weighing an offer made Wednesday to coach the Dolphins, Saban met with Huizenga and team president Eddie Jones, before huddling with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman. Shortly before Huizenga departed, Saban briefly boarded his plane, but then got in his car and drove away. "In the next 24 to 48 hours we'll make a decision," said Saban, who has turned down overtures from at least five NFL teams. The Tigers and Saban are scheduled to fly to Orlando today for their Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl game against Iowa . . . Zach Thomas, who missed most of the previous four games because of a strained hamstring, is expected to return to the Dolphins lineup against Cleveland . . . Bills running back Willis McGahee practiced for the first time this week but is listed as questionable against San Francisco after bruising and hyperextending his right knee in Buffalo's win over Cincinnati last Sunday . . . Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was limited at practice by an elbow injury but is expected to start against Arizona . . . The Chiefs placed veteran defensive end Vonnie Holliday on injured reserve and promoted rookie wide receiver Richard Smith from the practice squad . . . Former Raiders Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins was arrested for hitting a security guard at a night club. Robbins was released by Oakland in July, a week after he was fined three game checks for testing positive for the steroid THG.

Azeri's career hits finish line

Azeri, who was Horse of the Year in 2002 and one of top females in thoroughbred racing history, was retired from competition and will be sent to Kentucky to be bred. The 6-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter won three Grade I races this year, improving her career total to 11. She finished fifth in her final race -- the Breeders' Cup Classic Oct. 30 when she competed against males . . . Johnny Oates, who managed the Texas Rangers to their first three postseason appearances and was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago, died at 58 in Richmond. Obituary, Page A41 . . . Three more umpires will be rehired by major league baseball and six more will split $2.3 million in severance pay as part of a settlement of the nasty dispute that cost 22 umps their jobs in 1999. The umpires will be brought back as part of a five-year labor contract that was agreed to Wednesday, a deal that also settles the 1 1/2-year-old grievance umpires filed over a computer system baseball has used to evaluate plate umps. Bob Davidson, an 18-year major league veteran, will get the next big league opening. Davidson, 52, umpired last season in the Single A Midwest League and worked behind the plate in 77 games. He made $13,000 in the minors, but would get a $274,993 salary if he is back in the majors before Opening Day . . . Tommy Tuberville, who led third-ranked Auburn to a 12-0 regular season and its first Southeastern Conference championship, was named Associated Press football coach of the year . . . Tulane football coach Chris Scelfo received a contract extension that will keep him with the school through the 2009 season.

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