You know what? Maybe everyone getting along wasn’t so great after all. When you think about it, there haven’t been any real true, deep-down, openly public, hate-filled coaching rivalries in college for awhile. Jimbo Fisher blew all of that up today in about 11 minutes, between 10:04 and 10:15 a.m. central time. He is coming for Nick Saban and he is not going to back down.
In one of the more jaw-dropping press conferences in recent history, the Texas A&M coach got up on the podium today after a last-minute announcement that he would be responding to comments Saban made yesterday during an Alabama fundraising event, notably: “I mean, 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, likeness. We didn’t buy one player, all right?”
And that was followed up by the fascinating claim that Saban’s Alabama players made their $3 million in NIL deals by — direct quote — “doing it the right way.” Deion Sanders and Jackson State football also caught a stray for apparently paying their five-star QB recruit, which Sanders immediately called a “LIE” on Twitter.
Those comments might have raised some eyebrows, but it’s absolutely-fucking-nothing compared to the bomb Jimbo just dropped on the college football world. The Aggies coach was fired up on that podium, not letting reporters finish their questions and taking agitated chugs from his water bottle before hurling out one-liners full of implications about Saban’s recruiting practices.
I wish I could just give you the full transcript, but here are some highlights. Jimbo opened by saying that it’s “a shame that we have to do this” and “despicable that somebody can say things about 17-year-old kids.”
“We never bought anybody, no rules were broken….We’ve never done anything that goes against the laws of the state of Texas,” Fisher continued. “Some people think they’re God. Well, go dig into his past or ask anyone who’s coached with him, find out what he does and how he does it. Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal. You may find out about a lot of things you don’t want to know.”
Fisher, after calling Saban a “narcissist” who thinks that he “walks on water,” and heavily implying that Saban’s recruiting practices were not exactly up to snuff on legality, repeatedly encouraged the gathered press to dig into Saban’s past and ask around about his recruiting practices, referencing “the operations and tactics of certain people” but refusing to elaborate.
He also referred to a comment that the Alabama coach made last week regarding the NIL era, reminiscing on when college football had “parity,” saying, “When parity was there, certain people never followed the rules anyways.” These are pretty serious accusations against Saban, who has drawn criticism from former recruits and players in the past 24 hours about those comments as well.
The one-liners from Fisher were endless. “Greatest ever, huh? You got all the advantages, it’s easy.”
“You coach with people, like Bobby Bowden, and learn how to do things. You coach with other people and learn how not to do things…I don’t cheat and I don’t lie. If you lied, your old man slapped you on the head. Maybe someone should have slapped him.”
Each accompanied by a sip of water, a meaningful look directed toward the crowd, and a bit of a smirk. A&M did, after all, beat out Alabama, not just on the recruiting front, but on the field this past fall, 41-38.
Fisher insisted again and again that the A&M program has never broken any state laws, asked that the government get involved to create NIL legislation and left it at that, and explicitly said “We did not buy any players.” This entire debacle goes back to an unconfirmed message board rumor that the Aggies spent $30 million to land their 2022 recruiting class, which spread around Twitter. Fisher has denied it from the start, calling it a “joke” and “irresponsible.”
Well, with Saban continuing to double down on that rumor, Fisher was probably warranted in this response. Saban, who was speaking to a room of potential donors and was probably just trying to get more money for the Alabama collective, quite frankly, likely didn’t mean the comment as a full-on declaration of war. He just wanted more cash. But Fisher took it as such, and the first shots of an SEC battle that we can only hope will go down in the legendary annals of college football have been fired. Names have been called, implications have been made, accusations are being thrown around. Fisher said that Saban tried to call him and he declined the call. This is war to a personal extent that we haven’t seen in this sport in a long time. Ohio State x-ing out the Ms on campus has nothing on what’s about to go down here. Iron Bowl publicity will look like a podunk high school game compared to the A&M-Alabama storm that’s about to happen.
It was long before I was alive, but I’ll fondly reminisce anyways. It was 1988 — two different schools, two different coaches, but in a rivalry showdown now known as Catholics vs Convicts. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz gathered his team after a pregame brawl against Miami. The words leading up to it vary in differing accounts, but it always ends like this: “You save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me.”
While there was no postgame back alley coach-on-coach fight after that game, I’m not so sure Jimbo will be as courteous. Come October 8, I can see a very similar speech going down in that A&M locker room. Fisher is coming for everything Saban has — not only his games, not only his recruits, but for his very legacy. This is gonna be fun.
Happy 100 days until college football!