Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher Feud Is the Exact Offseason Drama CFB Needs

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterMay 20, 2022

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 22:  Head Coach Jimbo Fisher of the Texas A&M Aggies talks at midfield with Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Aggies 45-23.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On a perfectly ordinary Thursday in May, a time when college football normally slumbers, a heavyweight fight broke out between two of the sport's most highly regarded coaches at two of the sport's most hyped programs. 

In another life, one that existed before student-athletes could legally capitalize on their star power through name, image and likeness legislation—and certainly long before programs could harness this newfound freedom to construct elite recruiting classes—Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were co-workers. 

They were friendly—at least friendly enough.

They won a national title together at LSU before going in different directions and becoming rivals at Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC. But now?

"We're done," Fisher said at a pop-up press conference Thursday morning when asked about his relationship with Saban. 

The reason for Fisher's disgust—and those two words were just the beginning—could be traced back to Saban's comments at a speaking engagement in Birmingham the night prior.

"A&M bought every player on their team," Saban said. "[They] made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn't buy one player, all right? But I don't know if we're gonna be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it. It's tough."

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 10: Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban looks on during the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship, on January 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

This is not the first time Saban has gone after NIL rules, or a lack thereof. It's also not the first time he's targeted Texas A&M, whether purposeful or not, as an example while begging for extra guidance.

Beyond saying his relationship with his former boss was severed, Fisher uncorked a response befitting of a message board. He denied Saban's claim, at least somewhat. He then spent the next 10 minutes in his own multiverse, waxing poetic on a subject he was more than ready to tackle.

He called Saban's comments "despicable" on multiple occasions. He referred to him as a "narcissist." He even called into question the way Saban was raised, paralleling his own upbringing.  

"I don't cheat and I don't lie," Fisher said. "I learned that when I was a kid. If you did, your old man slapped you 'side the head. Maybe somebody should have slapped him." 

And, perhaps most sensational of all, Fisher called into question the very foundation of the greatest college coach to ever walk a football sideline. He used his own history as a catalyst, although he didn't stop there.  

In fact, he begged anyone willing to listen and go much deeper than that.

"Some people think they're God," Fisher said. "Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out about a guy that—a lot of things you don't want to know. We build him up to be the czar of football. Go dig into his past or anybody who's ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out; what he does and how he does it." 

Justin Rex/Associated Press

This was football theater. This was a storyline seemingly constructed for a straight-to-TV movie; the GOAT and his understudy trading jabs through a microphone, speaking on a topic that has generated strong feelings throughout the sport.

No matter how you feel about NIL and whether it's ruining college football, however, you were able to pull up a chair, prop your feet up on a cooler and bask in the afterglow of a good ol' fashion coaching feud. 

If only for 10 minutes, the sporting world seemed to stop. Social media, which was seemingly constructed for moments like this, caught fire. Coaches and players and media and fans, even those who don't spend their offseasons trolling messing boards, couldn't help but glue themselves to the exchange.  

It was perfect because it was imperfect. It was raw and awkward and confrontational. It was also generally harmless, which makes for the ideal kind of football drama. 

As the NBA and more recently the NFL have mastered the art of captivating the attention outside their seasons, college football is following that blueprint.

The active coaching carousel and a quickly evolving landscape regarding the transfer portal and player compensation have created plenty of natural fodder. But the next chapter in the sport, beyond the games themselves, is the one Saban and Fisher are crafting before our eyes. 

Things are evolving quickly. The NCAA, despite posting guidance in the past few weeks on the topic, is in a challenging position to somehow govern an issue that has captivated the sport. That is perhaps being kind on the matter, although it doesn't change the obstacles ahead.

It is precisely why Saban has taken matters into his own hands. And make no mistake about it: Saban knows exactly what he's doing—generating a tidal wave during a time when one is normally not to be found.  

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 13: Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Jimbo Fisher of the Texas A&M Aggies on the sidelines talking during of the College Football Playoff National Championship game with the LSU Tigers playing agai
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The rules are somewhat hazy, and the guidance is, well, a bit misunderstood. The result is conflict between two coaches who don't much fear what people think about them.

Saban didn't directly state that Fisher broke any rules. Fisher didn't deny that A&M's immense resources helped bring together one of the greatest recruiting classes ever assembled.

They couldn't help but get swept up in both the topic and the response. And the greatest commodity in college football, emotion, once again served as the driving force.  

The good and the bad and the angry and the euphoric are what catapult the sport into its own stratosphere. Although typically these emotions are reserved for Saturdays in the fall. 

To see a small piece of that carry over into the offseason is welcomed. Quite frankly, we could use more of it. 

The SEC might not agree. (Well, at least publicly.) It swiftly reprimanded both coaches for their comments, and Saban has since apologized

"I should've never really singled anyone out," Saban said on SiriusXM College during an interview on Thursday (h/t USA Today's Paul Myerberg). "That was a mistake." 

No matter the apology or the original exchange, damage has been done. Entertainment has been generated.

A rivalry that was already brewing through Texas A&M's rise on the field and on the recruiting trail, headlined by its most recent upset over Alabama last season, has taken on new life. 

They will meet again October 8 in Tuscaloosa. This much we know. Alabama fans might as well start tailgating now. 

The matchup already carried great importance; it is likely now to be one of the most anticipated regular-season college football games in recent memory.

Perhaps the war of words is over. Or maybe it's just beginning.

Regardless, as the season inches closer and real games slowly appear on the horizon, the buzz has already begun to assemble.

Although the offseason can be lingering and everlasting for those who crave actual football, it doesn't feel that way right now.

The buildup has begun. At least for the moment, the games can wait.