The SEC spring meetings will be held in person for the first time since 2019 in a little less than two weeks.
It is unlikely that two of the SEC’s superstar football coaches will be chumming around Destin together.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher called Alabama’s Nick Saban a “narcissist” on Thursday after Saban accused Fisher of using name, image and likeness deals to land the Aggies’ top-ranked 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 reprimand for both.
Less than 24 hours after Saban said Texas A&M was essentially “buying” players, Fisher called an impromptu news conference to blast college football’s most accomplished coach and his former boss at LSU.
“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way,” Fisher said in College Station, Texas. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen — it’s ridiculous — when he’s not on top. And the parity in college football he’s been talking about? Go talk to coaches who have coached for him. You’ll find out all the parity. Go dig into wherever he’s been.”
Texas A&M had the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2022 after beating Alabama during the regular season last year. The Tide’s class was No. 2. In his session which lasted about 10 minutes, Fisher declared: “We never bought anybody; no rules are broken. Nothing was done wrong.”
The public spat is perhaps the ugliest display of the growing angst among college coaches who are wrestling with two big changes: the compensation era, launched in July 2021, and its impact on recruiting, and the ease with which players can now transfer.
Saban, who has won six national championships and is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the game’s history, has called the current state of affairs unsustainable. At an event in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday, he said some schools were spending “tons of money to get players.”
“You read about it; you know who they are,” Saban said. “We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”
Saban said Thursday he had reached out to Fisher but “never got a response.” He apologized for singling anybody out but stood by the gist of his message about booster-backed collectives essentially helping to recruit players.
“I feel bad about it. But I’m not changing my philosophy,” Saban said on Sirius XM radio. “I look at the betterment of college football. What is good for the game?
“I really wasn’t saying that anybody did anything illegal in using name, image and likeness. … That was something that was assumed by what I said, which was not really what I meant. … There’s nothing illegal about doing this. It’s the system that allows you to do it. And that’s the issue that I have.”
Sankey issued a “public reprimand” for both coaches but acknowledged there’s “tremendous frustration” about the lack of consistency in name, image and likeness rules in different states.
Fisher was an assistant under Saban in the early 2000s at LSU, working as offensive coordinator on the Tigers’ 2003 national title team. He became Florida State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Bobby Bowden in 2007, then head coach in 2010.
Fisher, 56, won a national championship in 2013 at Florida State before receiving a 10-year contract for $75 million to leave Tallahassee for Texas A&M in 2017.
“We’re done,” Fisher said of his relationship with Saban, adding that Saban, 70, had reached out to him by phone but he did not take the call. “He showed you who he is. He’s the greatest ever, huh? When you got all the advantages, it’s easy.”
He said Saban’s comments were insulting to Texas A&M and the families of the players who signed with the Aggies.
“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher said. “Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out about a guy, a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past or anybody who’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out what he does and how he does it.
“There’s a reason I ain’t went back and worked for him, with opportunities. I don’t want to be associated with him.
“I don’t cheat. I don’t lie. If you did, my old man slapped me across the face. Maybe someone should have slapped (Saban).”
The NCAA lifted most of its rules barring athletes from earning money from sponsorship and endorsement deals last July, but there are concerns among many in college sports that name, image and likeness deals are being used as recruiting inducements and de facto pay-for-play setups. Last week, the NCAA issued guidance to Division I members to clarify its rules against boosters being involved in recruiting.
Saban also mentioned Jackson State and Miami in his remarks Wednesday.
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, landed one of the top recruits in the country, cornerback Travis Hunter, who had been committed to FSU until a signing-day flip in December.
“We as a PEOPLE don’t have to pay our PEOPLE to play with our PEOPLE,” Sanders posted on Twitter on Wednesday night.
As for Fisher, he said he’s looking forward to the Destin meetings.
“I don’t mind confrontation. Lived with it my whole life,” Fisher said. “Kind of like it myself. Backing away from it isn’t the way I was raised.”
— By RALPH D. RUSSO
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