Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher responded Thursday after Alabama’s Nick Saban accused the Aggies of buying “every player on their team” while speaking at an event in Birmingham the night before.

“It’s a shame that we have to do this,” Fisher, who boasts the top-ranked 2022 recruiting class, said during a fiery news conference in College Station. “It’s really despicable. It’s despicable that somebody can say things about somebody and, more importantly, 17-year-old kids. You’re taking shots at 17-year-old kids and their families, that they broke state laws, that we bought every player on this group. We never bought anybody. No rules were broken. Nothing was done wrong. . . . It’s despicable that a reputable head coach could come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way.”

Later Thursday, Saban expressed regret for his comments, saying on SiriusXM (via ESPN), “I should have never singled anybody out, and I apologize for that part of it.”

The SEC cited league bylaws in issuing reprimands to both coaches.

“A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Public criticism of any kind does not resolve issues and creates a distraction from seeking solutions for the issues facing college athletics today.”

Saban’s initial comments came at an event Wednesday with local business leaders, during which the seven-time national-title-winning coach expressed concerns with the NCAA’s name, image and likeness (NIL) model, which has given college athletes the opportunity to monetize their fame and personal brands since it went into effect in July. While the NCAA’s guidelines prohibit schools from using money to lure recruits, Saban said pay-to-play rules are unenforceable, and he insinuated that schools such as Texas A&M are taking advantage.

Advertisement

“We were second in recruiting last year,” Saban said. “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, all right? 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 noted that 25 members of last year’s Alabama team combined to earn $3 million “by doing it the right way.”

“Name, image and likeness, to me, is a great concept for players,” Saban said. “Players have always been allowed to work. This is just a different opportunity to make money by working and using their own name, image and likeness, whether it’s signing autographs, whether it’s doing commercials or ads for some company or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that. . . . The issue and the problem with name, image and likeness is coaches trying to create an advantage for themselves.”

Fisher repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

“We do things right. We’re always going to do things right,” he said. “. . . I hate it for our players who are coming here, who did things the right way, have done things the right way and will continue to do things the right way.”

Fisher, who worked on Saban’s staff at LSU from 2000 to 2004, became the first of Saban’s former assistants to defeat him when the Aggies upset the Crimson Tide 41-38 in October. He said Saban called him after Wednesday’s comments were first reported by AL.com, but he didn’t answer and didn’t plan to going forward.

Advertisement

“We’re done,” he said.

Saban noted Thursday that he had not been able to reach Fisher. “I feel bad about it,” the Alabama coach said.

Saban wondered aloud on his radio appearance if the sudden surge in NIL agreements was a positive development for his sport.

“It’s the whole system, and is this a sustainable system,” Saban asked, “and is it good for college football?”

“There is tremendous frustration concerning the absence of consistent rules from state to state related to name, image and likeness,” Sankey said in his statement. “We need to work together to find solutions and that will be our focus at the upcoming SEC Spring Meetings.”

In his earlier remarks, Saban also managed to anger Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders.

Advertisement

“We have a rule right now that says you cannot use name, image and likeness to entice a player to come to your school,” Saban said Wednesday. “Hell, read about it in the paper! I mean, Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school. It was in the paper and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it.”

Defensive back Travis Hunter, the nation’s top-ranked high school recruit, surprised observers in December when he spurned Florida State and committed to Jackson State, where Sanders, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, is entering his second year. There was a rumor at the time that Hunter had signed a $1.5 million NIL deal with Barstool Sports, which produced a docuseries about Sanders.

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard,” Sanders said during an appearance on ESPN the next day. “You know what that is? That means we kicked your butt, we took what was ours, and now you’ve got to make up an excuse why. Ain’t nobody getting no million and a half. I wouldn’t pay my son a million and a half in NIL. How am I going to coach a guy making more than me?”

Hunter and Sanders responded to Saban’s comments Thursday. “I got A mil?” Hunter tweeted with the crying-laughing emoji. “But my mom still stay in a 3 bed room house with five kids.”

“I don’t even make a million!” Sanders wrote, along with 13 crying-laughing emoji.

Saban isn’t the first SEC coach to suggest that Fisher and Texas A&M have paid players to come to College Station.

Advertisement

“I joked the other day, I didn’t know if Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax in how much they paid for their signing class,” Mississippi Coach Lane Kiffin said in February.

“To have coaches in our league and across this league to say it, clown acts,” Fisher said the next day. “Irresponsible as hell. Multiple coaches in our league. And the guys griping about NIL and transfer portal are using it the most and bragging about it the most. That’s the ironic part.”

Fisher, entering his fifth season with the Aggies after leading Florida State to a national title in 2014, was every bit as angry Thursday.

“It’s the second time we’ve had to do this with grown men who don’t get their way and want to pout and throw a fit and act up,” he said. “Just go ask the people that work for him; you’ll know exactly what he’s about. My dad always told me this: ‘When people show you who they are, believe them.’ He’s showing you who he is.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.