SEC Meetings: Nick Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher fallout dominates the day in Destin
DESTIN, Fla. — There’s no easy way to say it, only the awkward reality of what played out when the cock of the walk of college football eased into the meeting room of a posh beach resort and looked, well, rattled.
Yes, everyone, even Nick Saban can be humbled.
“I didn’t say anybody did anything wrong,” Saban uncomfortably blurted out, when asked about his comments earlier this month that Texas A&M “bought every recruit.”
When reminded that he said Texas A&M — and by proxy, Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher — “bought” every player, Saban demurred, “I don’t have a problem with Jimbo Fisher.”
Yeah, well, Fisher clearly has a problem with Saban.
Welcome, everyone, to the theater of the absurd in the SEC. Only here can the greatest coach in college football history, the man whose very words can change the course of any national conversation about the past, present or future of the sport, look — if for only a moment — uncomfortable in his own skin.
If the SEC were Facebook, the current relationship status would be “complicated.”
Twenty-one years in the SEC, 15 seasons at Alabama — and there was Nick Saban, head lowered and reading off a cheat sheet while offering 3 ways to fix the name, image and likeness storm that has engulfed the sport.
Minutes after his time at the podium, Saban walked upstairs and briskly by and around Fisher — who was standing an intermediate throw from the meeting room — and right into where the magic will unfold over the next 2 days.
The same room where — as fate would have it — Fisher will chair the coaches meeting because it’s his turn in the rotation.
Take a guess how that thing will play out behind closed doors.
“I’m not touching that thing,” Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said.
Before we delve deep into the hows and whys of getting to this point, understand that this isn’t the first time the coaches have met post-National Signing Day. It’s not the first time Saban and Fisher have been in the same room after Fisher signed what many recruiting experts say is the greatest recruiting class in the history of college football.
It’s not the first time Saban looked across the table at his former assistant coach and friend (the table is set alphabetically by school) and realized the greatest threat to his empire at Alabama is name, image and likeness — and a charismatic coach who can land 8 (eight!!) 5-star recruits in one class.
The coaches met in February at the conference office in Birmingham just after National Signing Day, and there were no fireworks. There was no accusation of players being “bought” or illicit wrongdoings in the forever dirty world of recruiting.
But Saban knew his audience earlier this month while speaking to a business function for the World Games, where Birmingham is the host city.
Translation: There was plenty of money in that audience — money that could be farmed for NIL use.
So when Saban spoke about the ills of NIL and how some programs are using it to their advantage, he may as well have been speaking for every coach in college football. But not every coach called out another program.
When he eventually spoke into existence what everyone in the sport was thinking (true or not), he gave pure oxygen to an ember waiting to explode.
Now the man who could say no wrong, whose words were taken as gospel whenever he spoke about the state of the game, has been reduced to repeating apologies.
“I should have never named any individual institutions,” Saban said again Tuesday.
This isn’t the first time the SEC has dealt with infighting among coaches and most certainly won’t be the last. These guys are fighting for every inch on and off the field, and they will use every possible advantage.
It’s multi-million dollar salaries and billion-dollar media rights deals and presidents and athletic directors who want results right now.
There’s no such thing as friendships in the SEC, and that might be the one thing Saban’s rant earlier this month exposed. It’s every man for himself in the meat grinder SEC.
NIL issues simply fueled the drama.
“We don’t speak to each other, any of us. They don’t call, I don’t call them,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who worked on the LSU staff in the early 2000s with Saban and Fisher. “I’m not really worried about a feud between two guys who used to sit in the same staff meeting and have similar conversations. At the end of the day, sometimes things get heated.”
And then it plays out on the field — where Saban is his most comfortable, anyway.