Alabama coach Nick Saban apologized Thursday afternoon for his comments on Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies’ recent recruiting class, which had triggered an explosive response from Fisher earlier Thursday and ignited a simmering rivalry between two of college football’s highest-profile head coaches.
“I should’ve never really singled anyone out,” Saban said during an appearance on Sirius XM College. “That was a mistake. I really apologize for that part of it.”
At an event Wednesday evening in Birmingham, Alabama, Saban said “A&M bought every player on their team” using rule changes related to name, image and likeness allowing players to be compensated for the use of their name or celebrity.
“We were second in recruiting last year,” he said Wednesday. “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. 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.”
In response, Fisher held a previously unscheduled news conference Thursday morning.
“It’s a shame that we have to do this,” he said. “You’re taking shots at 17-year-old kids and their families, that they broke state laws.”
Fisher labeled Saban’s comments “despicable,” called him a “narcissist” and, in one of the most remarkable broadsides levied between two high-profile coaches, suggested that “somebody should have slapped” Saban as a child.
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Saban’s comments and Fisher’s blistering comeback drew quick condemnation from the SEC, which issued public reprimands to both coaches, citing violations of conference bylaws “related to Ethical Conduct for derogatory comments and public criticism of another institution’s athletics program.”
“A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “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.”
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Saban clarified in his radio appearance that he wasn’t accusing A&M or Fisher of violating any NCAA or state rules related to NIL.
“I really wasn’t saying that anyone was doing anything illegal in using name, image and likeness. I didn’t say that,” said Saban. “That was something that was assumed, which is not what I meant and not what I said.”
NIL legislation “is a great thing for players,” he said.
But Saban questioned how schools are using collectives — third-party groups pooling together funds to dispense to current student-athletes or prospective recruits — and whether these groups are “raising money basically to pay players.”
“I think a lot of us are concerned about that,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned about what’s happening. People really want to understand what’s happening in college football. People want to understand why people are transferring schools and getting money to do it.”
Saban added, “It’s a crazy world out there right now.”
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg.