Springtime cheer? Texas A&M's Fisher calls Bama's Saban 'narcissist'

SEC commissioner reprimands both coaches for verbal jabs regarding NIL

Perhaps it's best the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida, will occur behind closed doors in a couple of weeks.

The football room could get quite spicy.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M counterpart Jimbo Fisher have produced an explosive exchange of words this week regarding the landscape of name, image and likeness compensation within college athletics. NIL opportunities for student-athletes began last July, and Saban expressed his concerns about the instant lack of parameters when speaking Wednesday night to business leaders in Birmingham.

"We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first," Saban said. "A&M bought every player on their team - made a deal for name, image, 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 told the audience that 25 members of his Crimson Tide were able to obtain NIL opportunities last season, and that those totaled $3 million. He also said that Jackson State University cornerback Travis Hunter, a five-star recruit from the Atlanta area, chose the smaller program because of a $1 million deal, and pointed to new Miami basketball player Nijel Pack, who transferred from Kansas State and will make $400,000 annually for two years with the Hurricanes, according to published reports.

The seven-time national championship coach said Alabama was "doing it the right way," but Fisher scheduled a news conference Thursday morning and quickly went after his former boss. Fisher was LSU's offensive coordinator in 2003, when Saban won the first of his national crowns.

"We didn't buy anyone, and no rules were broken," Fisher said of Texas A&M's first signing class ever to be ranked No. 1. "Nothing was done wrong. It was all within the ethics in which we do things, and it is 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.

"The narcissist in him doesn't allow those things to happen, and it's ridiculous when he's not on top."

Last season, Fisher ended Saban's 25-0 run against his former assistants when his Aggies upset the Tide 41-38 in College Station. Saban would suffer a second loss to a former assistant this past January, when Kirby Smart guided Georgia to a 33-18 victory over Alabama in the title game of the four-team playoff.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on Thursday afternoon publicly reprimanded Saban and Fisher and commented on the clash.

"The membership of the Southeastern Conference has established expectations for conduct and sportsmanship that were not met last night nor today," Sankey said through a release. "A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration. Public criticism of any kind does not resolve issues and creates a distraction from seeking solutions for the issues facing college athletics today. There is tremendous frustration concerning the absence of consistent rules from state to state related to name, image and likeness.

"We need to work together to find solutions, and that will be our focus at the upcoming SEC spring meetings."

Saban appeared on ESPNU Radio on Thursday afternoon and apologized for singling anyone out.

Fisher even said Saban tried to call him but that he didn't answer his phone - "We're done," he said. Fisher would go on to praise the late Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and added there is a reason he never worked a second time for Saban.

"These are 17-year-old kids and their families. It's amazing," Fisher said. "Some people think they're God. Go dig into how God did his deal, and you may find out about a guy a lot of things you don't want to know.

"We've built him up to be the czar of college football. Go dig into his past."

Another SEC head coach and former Saban assistant, Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss, took a shot at the Aggies in February when he said, "Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax in how much they paid for their signing class." On Thursday, Kiffin posted a video on Twitter of Peyton Manning blowing two pretend pistols before putting them in pretend holsters, as if to say Saban had fired shots successfully.

Near the end of Fisher's nearly 10-minute news conference, he was asked whether the SEC spring meetings or this October's rematch in Tuscaloosa will be awkward.

"It'll be fun, won't it?" Fisher replied. "I don't mind confrontation. I've lived with it my whole life and kind of like it myself.

"It's just disgusting what we're into right now, especially the people throwing the darts who have no glass in their house."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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