Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher have made college football recruiting too personal.
Saban made that mistake when he said Wednesday night that Texas A&M “bought every player” in its 2022 class. Fisher responded with a record-breaking press conference Thursday in defense of his program. Then he made the same mistake when he led a series of insults that called into question Saban’s success in his coaching career.
Link to Jimbo Fisher’s press conference: https://t.co/Ykf9vpYsEK
— Joseph Hastings (@JosephAHastings) May 19, 2022
Cue the Michael Jordan “Last Dance” memes.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but as far as SEC football is concerned, this trade is high-level entertainment. The buildup for the Oct. 8 game between the Aggies and Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium will only continue to heat up. Remember when kickoff time for Alabama-Texas on Sept. 10 was the hottest debate in college football this week? Nobody cares now. Instead, it’s Saban’s comments at a fundraiser in Birmingham, Ala.
“We were second in recruiting last year, A&M was first,” Saban said. “A&M bought all the players for their team. We made a deal for the name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy a single player. But I don’t know if we’ll be able to maintain that at the moment. future because more and more people are doing it.”
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That’s where Saban got it wrong, even though he apologized Thursday afternoon during an appearance on SiriusXM Radio after Fisher’s presser.
“First of all, I should never have really singled out anyone,” Saban said. “It was a mistake, and I apologize for that part.”
Every gripe Saban brings groans and eye-rolls as he leads college football’s greatest dynasty of all time. Alabama has won six national championships and had the best recruiting class in college football eight times since 2012. Saban isn’t wrong when he laments the lack of parity or equality in sports, but he’s not is not the best voice to convey this message. His machine is the cause of this lack of parity.
So what exactly is Saban’s view?
Texas A&M had the No. 1 recruiting class in 2022 and two of the Aggies’ five-star recruits had Alabama in their top three. That’s not why Saban is petty. Look at the next class. Alabama’s Class of 2023 is ranked No. 36 and has just three commitments. That must be a source of frustration for a program that has produced the most NFL talent since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Saban also tackled the hottest topic/issue in recruiting right now: collectives.
“I think collectives are the problem,” Saban said. “If the elders give money or if money is collected through a collective to give it to a player, it is no different than the elders give money to the player. The collective becomes a representative of school and you can’t do that. . . . That’s not what the name and image and likeness was supposed to be.”
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This is where Saban can still win. He will be able to present his views on collectives at upcoming SEC meetings and at SEC Media Day. He remains the most influential voice in college football.
But being 70 and saying whatever you want is no excuse to get into Texas A&M, or even Jackson State and Deion Sanders, for the way they handle recruiting.
This is where Fisher took advantage of Saban’s mistake.
Kind of. He defended his program’s recruiting tactics, but he also used his 10-minute session to launch an all-out attack on Saban’s career without using the coach’s name.
“I don’t cheat and I don’t lie,” Fisher said. “I learned that when I was a kid, if that was the case, the old man would slap you on the head. Maybe someone should have slapped him.”
He called Saban “narcissistic”, compared him to “God” and even threw in a “walking on water” analogy.
“You train people like Bobby Bowden and learn how to do things,” Fisher said, referring to his boss at Florida State. “You coach with other people and learn not to do things. There’s a reason I didn’t go back to work for [Saban], with opportunities. I don’t want to be associated with him.”
That’s not all.
“We’re building him to be the football czar,” Fisher said of Saban, who was his boss at LSU. “Go dig into his past or anyone who’s ever coached with him. You can find out all you want to know what he does and how he does it. It’s despicable.”
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Again, this is all entertaining, but Fisher took it too far. It could come back to Texas A&M, a program that is seeking its first national championship since 1939. If you slap the king – or the god, the czar or the man who walks on water – you better not not miss it. A&M beat Alabama 41-38 at College Station in 2021. The Aggies haven’t won at Bryant-Denny Stadium since Johnny Manziel’s magic act in a 29-24 upset on Nov. 11, 2012. A class recruiting doesn’t change that.
Fisher also could have answered Saban’s phone call after Wednesday’s comments.
“He’s been called,” Fisher said. “I’m not going to (answer). We’re done. He’s showing you who he is. He’s the greatest of all time, huh? When you have all the advantages, it’s easy.”
For all Fisher had to say about Saban, he didn’t offer much when asked about rosters, NIL, or the future of college football recruiting in an unchecked market entering the year 2.
The Aggies are ranked No. 14 in the 2023 Team Recruiting Rankings according to 247Sports.com. Texas Tech is No. 2. There’s a lot more uncertainty right now. Texas is coming soon to the SEC. Texas A&M has a lot going on that has nothing to do with Alabama.
Fisher, for all his viral quotes, also missed the mark. Saban is for or NIL, after all.
“I really wasn’t saying somebody was doing somebody illegal,” Saban said. “I didn’t say that. It’s something that was assumed from what I said. There’s nothing illegal about doing that. It’s the system that allows you to do it. That’s what I have a problem with.”
The Southeastern Conference on Thursday reprimanded Saban and Fisher for their trade.
“Public criticism of any kind does not solve the problems and distracts from finding solutions to the problems facing college athletes today,” the conference said in a statement. “There is huge frustration over the lack of consistent state-to-state rules around name, image and likeness. We need to work together to find solutions and that will be our focus in future meetings. SEC Spring Break.”
These proceedings will take place behind closed doors, and suffice it to say that SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey will likely remind both coaches that this is now strictly business. Expect more decorum in Destin and Atlanta this summer. It won’t erase the last 24 hours, though. We now know how Saban and Fisher really feel about each other.
It’s personal, and it can’t be settled on the pitch. It also might not be the best thing for the sport right now. Both coaches need to remember this the next time they want to launch an attack.