Alabama coach Nick Saban sent the college football world into turmoil on Wednesday night when he told a gathering of state business leaders that Texas A&M had assembled the best recruiting class ranked in the country because she “bought every player” with name, image and likeness deals. .
Decrying the influence of money in recruitment, Saban said NIL was being used unfairly. At Alabama, he said of his No. 2 class, “We didn’t buy a single player, okay?”
Then Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher quickly held a press conference Thursday morning to respond, and gasoline was poured on the fire.
Fisher didn’t hold back, calling Saban a “narcissistic” and saying of him, “Some people think they’re God.” Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000 to 2004, Fisher practically laughed at his former boss’ assertion that there has always been parity in college football and NIL is threatening to undermine that.
“He’s the greatest of all time, huh?” said Fisher. “When you have all the advantages, it’s easy.”
If the coaches weren’t talking about Saban’s comments before, they were after Fisher’s heated press conference was over. An SEC aide said his phone “exploded” afterwards. On road recruiting, that was all the high school coach he was with at the time wanted to talk about.
The comments touched a nerve, not just because of what was said and who said it, but because of the subject matter at hand. The signing class of 2022 was the first to have NIL as part of the recruiting process – either directly or indirectly – and many coaches are worried about the impact this is having. Time and time again, they described the absence of rules as creating an environment akin to the “Wild, wild West”.
But for two coaches to go against each other so directly was shocking, not to mention the fact that they are two of the highest paid and most accomplished coaches in the game who are in the same conference and compete in the same division. Last October, Fisher finally slew the dragon and became the first of Saban’s former assistants to beat him when Texas A&M beat Alabama at home on a 41-38 field goal.
Another assistant who once worked for Saban said Fisher must have sensed an opening after the win and had the confidence to go on the attack. Still, he and everyone he spoke with wanted to know, “What is Jimbo thinking?”
Yes, Saban was wrong. The aide said Saban crossed the line by pointing to Texas A&M. Moreover, he was surprised that the usually calculating Saban allowed himself to be filmed saying what he was doing. “He should have been smarter,” said the assistant.
But why bite the bear? Like many others, the coach was surprised by Fisher’s reaction and stressed: “[Saban] never said they were cheating.”
Anyway, it was fascinating.
“I don’t know who we’re up against this week,” the coach said with a laugh, “but I’ll skip it to watch Alabama-Texas A&M.”
With 142 days until Crimson Tide hosts the Aggies, ESPN polled coaches and athletic directors across the country to get their reaction to the Fisher-Saban dust: what it means, what happens next and what they’re up to. expect when the two coaches meet at Bryant-Denny Stadium in October. –Alex Scarborough
What triggered Saban’s comments?
Was Saban upset that Texas A&M beat him on the recruiting track? Really concerned about the trajectory of college football? maybe a little of both. But there is no doubt that when Saban speaks, people start to listen.
SEC Athletic Director: “NIL has caused a lot of confusion and consternation, and as a league we have to deal with issues like this, hopefully not in the public eye.”
Big Ten Assistant Coach: “A lot of us were just talking about it thinking it was a call to arms. The way they did it doesn’t really hold up in this new era, and that’s kind of what we’ve seen Everyone across the country is calling a callback to step in and that’s what I thought it was.
Power 5 Head Coach: “Nick’s point, while valid, he’s smarter than that. He doesn’t usually put his hand in the hornet’s nest. There was no reason to cross the line the way he did. All that what he had to do was be macro and vague Something happened Jimbo did something, and the teacher didn’t like what the student did.
Power 5 AD: “Everyone knows Nick is very smart. There’s a reason he does that. It’s almost like he does that, A&M is a serious or even bigger threat. I think he sees that like an existential crisis. He can see that, and unless something changes, that’s his way of saying you need to do something. I think he sees that as a man, that gap could potentially close, and he tries to sound the alarm.
What was your reaction to Fisher’s rebuttal?
Big Ten Wizard: “I think there was 90 universal minutes that no one was — done because they were laughing like crazy, us included.”
Coach of the group of 5: “It’s like the sequel to the best movie of all time. [Fisher not calling] going to offend Saban more than Jimbo by saying stuff, that he won’t pick up the phone. …I was in a meeting and we took a break. I looked at my phone and couldn’t stop laughing.”
Big Ten Wizard: “I’ve had text messages from coaches from the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC. The whole sport shut down the opponent we were looking for and ignored calls from rookies to focus on this press conference. There’s had a lot of lost production around college football today.”
What does this say about the state of college football?
Saban’s comments come at a time of great chaos in the world of high-profile college football. There’s the growing gap between the SEC and the Big Ten and everyone else, prompting talk of a possible BFC Super League. The NCAA’s future is uncertain after numerous legal defeats and the impending departure of chairman Mark Emmert. And of course there’s NIL, which, as we saw today, has caused a lot of consternation across the sport. Will a high-profile dispute between two of the game’s big-name coaches — which has resulted in public reprimands for both from the SEC office — change anything?
Power 5 AD: “Sport is much healthier than the atmosphere around it. People say what they think more than ever before, but it’s not like those things weren’t said. They were more general about it without naming anyone in particular. There are so many rumors, so many things that people are hearing, even when some of the reps for some of these athletes tell the coaches. It’s hard to know if the numbers are real or if they’re exaggerated, unless, unless the people involved in the numbers actually come out and make statements about it, like the guy associated with the University of Miami. It makes for good theater but it’s an example of what’s on the minds of people behind the scenes who don’t say it out loud.”
Power 5 Head Coach: “It’s not sustainable, and I’m extremely concerned about the direction college athletics is going. It’s coming from a football coach, and it’ll be fine, but the rest. Nick was right. We’re going down that payment for – whatever the path, other sports will die.”
Power 5 AD: Literally, my first thought was that our profession had reached an all-time low. It makes the coaches look like a bunch of jesters. It’s no wonder we have the problems we have, when we have adults and people in leadership positions who run things that way.”
What happens afterwards?
Power 5 Head Coach: “Hopefully this will create some urgency for a new governance structure. Our game is in chaos right now, and this is the result of the chaos.”
Power 5 Assistant: “What I keep coming back to, from a 30,000 foot perspective, is how are we going to fix this? I know there’s some kind of fun on Twitter, ha ha, it is entertainment. But to me it stinks. The sport is literally in tatters right now and here are two people who would have a chance to save it and they are punching each other.”
Of course, that will finally be settled on the field when two programs with national championship aspirations meet in Tuscaloosa on October 8.
Power 5 AD: “It better be a night game. I think it’s going to be one of those top-rated games of the year. They’re both going to circle. Nick is going to say, we’re going to show them. And Jimbo is going to say, that’s what those guys said about you. Get your popcorn ready.
Andrea Adelson, Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, Alex Scarborough and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this story.