Spring meetings of the Southeastern Conference will be held in person for the time being since 2019 in just under two weeks.
Two of the SEC’s superstar coaches are unlikely to end up together in Destin, Florida.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher called Nick Saban a ‘narcissistic’ on Thursday after the Alabama coach accused rival Aggies of using name, image and likeness deals to land their best recruiting classes. Saban apologized a few hours later, but generally stuck to his stance, and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey followed soon after with a public rebuke for the two.
So much for a quiet offseason.
The public spat is perhaps the ugliest manifestation of the growing angst of college coaches battling two big changes: the NIL pay era launched last July and its impact on recruiting, and the ease with which players can now be transferred. Both have upended the landscape that veteran coaches are used to, leading to complaints and now scathing accusations.
Less than 24 hours after Saban said Texas A&M was essentially “buying” players, Fisher called an impromptu press conference to blast college football’s most accomplished coach and former boss at LSU.
“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say that when he’s not getting what he wants or things aren’t going his way,” Fisher said at College Station, Aug. Texas. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow these things to happen – it’s ridiculous – when he’s not on top form. What about the parity in college football he’s talking about? Go talk to the coaches who coached him. You find out all the parity Go dig wherever he’s been.
Texas A&M had the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for 2022 after beating Alabama during the regular season. Tide’s class was No. 2. During his session which lasted about 10 minutes, Fisher said, “We never bought anyone, no rules are broken. Nothing was done wrong.
Saban said he contacted Fisher but “never received a response.” He apologized for picking anyone, but stuck to the gist of his message about Chemistry backed by boosters essentially helping to recruit players.
“I feel bad about it. But I’m not changing my philosophy,” Saban said on Sirius XM radio. “I’m watching college football improve. What’s good for the game?
When asked if he wanted to address the dispute with Fisher in upcoming SEC meetings, Saban simply said he hoped to work out some big-picture issues.
“I really wasn’t saying anyone did anything illegal using his name, image and likeness,” the Alabama coach said. ” I did not say that. It was something that was assumed by what I said, which wasn’t really what I meant. That wasn’t what I said either. There is nothing illegal about doing that. It’s the system that allows you to do that. And that’s the problem I have.
Sankey issued a “public rebuke” to the two coaches, but acknowledged there was “huge frustration” over the lack of consistency in NIL rules across different states.
“Members of the Southeastern Conference have set expectations for conduct and sportsmanship that weren’t met last night or today,” Sankey said. “One of the hallmarks of the SEC is intense competition in a collaborative environment. Public criticism of all kinds does not solve the problems and creates a distraction in the search for solutions to the problems facing college athletes today.
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork echoed Fisher’s defense and said he had been in contact with Sankey.
“We are all responsible for what we say. And there are regulations that talk about sportsmanship among member institutions, which would include all of us. There is a negative recruiting rule, programs cannot negatively recruit against other schools,” Bjork told AP.
The Crimson Tide lost to the Aggies in 2021 but went on to win the SEC Championship and play for the national title. The Aggies finished 8-4 in their fourth season under Fisher, who, like Saban, is among the highest-paid coaches in the game at more than $9 million per season.
Saban, who has won six national championships and is widely regarded as one of the greatest managers in football history, described the current situation as unsustainable. At an event in Birmingham, Alabama this week, he said some schools were spending “tons of money recruiting players.”
“You’ve read about it, you know who they are,” Saban said Wednesday. “We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was the first. A&M bought all the players from their team. Make a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy a single player.
Fisher was an assistant under Saban in the early 2000s at LSU, working as an offensive coordinator on the Tigers’ national title team in 2003. That relationship is now badly damaged.
“We’re done,” Fisher said, adding that Saban reached out by phone but didn’t take the call. “He showed you who he is. It’s the greatest of all time, huh? When you have all the advantages, it’s easy.
He said Saban’s comments were insulting to Texas A&M and the families of players who signed with the Aggies.
Texas A&M will play in Alabama on Oct. 8, but Fisher and Saban won’t have to wait that long to cross paths with the fast-approaching SEC meetings.
“I’m not cheating. I’m not lying. If you did, my old man slapped me in the face. Maybe someone should have slapped him (Saban),” Fisher said.
Fisher, 56, won a national championship in 2013 as Florida State head coach before receiving a 10-year, $75 million contract to leave Tallahassee for Texas A&M in 2017. Fisher was hired to deliver a title to a program that hasn’t won a national championship since 1939 despite its deep-pocketed boosters, resources, and access to talent.
Bjork said he thinks some rivals might feel threatened by A&M finally starting to put the pieces in place to reach its potential.
“So why are we the target, is this a threat to the college football power system? SECOND? State of Texas? ” He asked. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask everyone else why they talk so much about A&M.
The NCAA lifted most of its rules barring athletes from making money through sponsorship and endorsement deals last July, but many college athletes worry that NIL deals are being used as recruiting incentives and facto payment for play. Last week, the NCAA issued guidance to Division I members to clarify its rules prohibiting boosters from being involved in recruiting.
In February, Fisher took on competitors who were spreading rumors that Texas A&M had spent $30 million on NIL contracts to land one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in history.
Saban, 70, was more focused in his criticism of the current state of college football during an address Wednesday night than he has been in the past. He also mentioned Jackson State and Miami in his remarks.
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, landed one of the best rookies in the country with cornerback Travis Hunter, who was committed to Florida State until on the day of signing in December.
“As PEOPLE we don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE,” Sanders tweeted Wednesday night.
As for Fisher, he said he looks forward to the Destin meetings.
“Confrontation doesn’t bother me. I’ve lived with it all my life,” Fisher said. “A bit like me. That’s not how I was raised.