The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The best part of NIL: Learning which coaches can’t stand each other

Alabama's Nick Saban and Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher went back and forth on name, image and likeness rules. (AP)
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No matter what happens from here on out, the new rules governing how players can profit from their name, image and likeness can be considered a victory for college football fans. It has helped us all better understand which college football coaches hate each other.

It turns out two of the best, at two crown-jewel programs in the same insane division of the same insane conference — who once won a national title together at a different school in that insane conference — really hate each other.

God bless the World Games and whoever decided whatever that is should take place in Birmingham, Ala. At a World Games countdown event there Wednesday night, Alabama Coach Nike Saban spoke to a crowd of local business leaders and declared Texas A&M had “bought every player” in its much-dissected, top-ranked recruiting class under the guise of NIL deals.

Thursday morning, Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher sprinted to the nearest news conference and pulled out a grenade launcher. Fisher called Saban’s accusations “despicable,” made vague accusations about Saban’s recruiting practices, implored reporters to look into Saban’s past and snorted at the notion that Saban is, as he is widely considered, the best college football coach ever because “when you have all the advantages it’s easy.”

Jimbo Fisher on Nick Saban’s NIL accusations: ‘It’s despicable’

Texas A&M at Alabama on Oct. 8, to answer the question you just asked. SEC Media Days start July 18, to answer the question you should have asked.

Maybe the most delectable side effect of NIL legislation is that the coaches don’t quite understand how it works, or they at least hold different interpretations of how it works, which means they don’t quite grasp how to be petty in public subtly. They instead clumsily wield bazookas when they get mad at each other. Who wins? We do.

The seed of the Saban-Fisher public feud began at signing day, when Texas A&M hauled in the consensus No. 1 class in the country, knocking Alabama down a spot from the perch it typically claims. Having outperformed even its typically high recruiting rankings, Texas A&M immediately took fire for how it used NIL. Mississippi Coach Lane Kiffin, ever the rascal, said the Aggies would “incur a luxury tax in how much they paid for their signing class.”

Saban kept his thoughts close to the vest until Wednesday night, when he called out Texas A&M and said, “the issue and the problem with name, image and likeness is coaches trying to create an advantage for themselves.”

Fisher discovered a newfound belief that NIL stands for Nick Is Lying. Texas A&M called a news conference at Kyle Field, and Fisher poured on spice.

“It’s a shame that we have to do this,” Fisher said. “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. The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top. The parity in college football he’s been talking about, go to talk to coaches who coach for him. Go dig into to wherever he’s been. You can find out anything.”

Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers won the national title, cast all the aspersions on his old boss and fellow West Virginian.

Miami’s billionaire booster defends his big-dollar NIL deals

“Some people think they are God,” Fisher said, referring to Saban. “Go dig into how God did his deal and you may find out a lot about a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past.

“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.”

Fisher happily shared that Saban had attempted to call him, but he refused the call. “We’re done,” Fisher said.

A reporter tried to ask a question, but Fisher took a swig of water and interrupted.

“He’s the greatest ever?” Fisher said. “When you have all the advantages, it’s easy.”

The complaints and accusations leveled by Fisher and Saban have been the most direct, but they are not the first NIL-prompted broadsides from coaches. Many have bemoaned the recruiting world NIL spawned. In basketball, some shuddered at the way one Miami booster has lured transfers. Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey offered a reality check for the entire industry.

“Last time I checked, you make pretty good money,” Brey said this month. “So everybody should shut up and adjust.”

The idea that players received enticements to attend college beyond facilities, playing time and academics is not exactly new or even controversial. NIL rules have moved it somewhat above board now, though, so coaches feel emboldened to criticize their brethren in public. Paradoxically, coaches appear more willing to slam each other for actions that are kinda, sorta legal than actions that are blatantly illegal.

“There has always been an ‘honor amongst thieves’ mantra in the league, and those two just called each other’s wives fat to a global audience,” one SEC assistant told the Athletic, which kind of makes you wonder what they’re saying about all this in Prague and Osaka.

Oct. 8, you cannot get here fast enough.

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