Gordon Monson: Saban vs. Fisher is a beautiful thing — college football coaches lobbing bombs at each other, revealing the truth

NIL might be new, but paying for advantage in college football is anything but

(AP Photo) At left, Alabama head coach Nick Saban yells to the sideline during the first half of Alabama's NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. At right, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher reacts to an official's call during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Oxford, Miss. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher called Nick Saban a “narcissist” Thursday, May 19, 2022. after the Alabama coach made “despicable” comments about the Aggies using name, image and likeness deals to land their top-ranked recruiting classes. Saban called out Texas A&M on Wednesday night for “buying” players.

This is too, too sweet, even though it’s sour.

Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher, two of the big names in college football coaching — Saban’s being the biggest, of course — have now made it clear that they don’t like each other much. In fact, they might hate each other. Or is losing, to even the slightest degree, what they hate?

And now, against the backdrop of the NIL effect on college sports, they are dragging that loathing straight into the glare of the public. And the irony in it all is rich, just like the coaches themselves, who are making $10 million-plus annually in salary.

Money is at the center of their accusations and criticisms, money that is not just indirectly landing in their pockets, but in the bank accounts of players, and more specifically recruits.

Maybe you’ve read the juicy stuff already, but, either way, reviewing it is worthwhile, not just because it’s hilarious, rather because it shines a light on what’s happening in major college sports.

Saban first. Talking to a group of businessmen the other night, the Alabama coach said the following:

“We were second in recruiting last year. “[Texas] A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team — made a deal for name, image, likeness. We didn’t buy one player, all right? 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.”

Fisher subsequently called his own news conference to … um, answer back, saying:

“We never bought anybody. No rules are broken. Nothing was done wrong. It’s a shame that you’ve got to sit here and defend 17-year-old kids and families and Texas A&M. Because we do things right. We’re always going to do things right. We’re always going to be here. We’re doing a heck of a job.”

And then, the good stuff.

“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way. The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”

And then, the better stuff.

“Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out 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. It’s despicable.”

And then, even after Saban called to apologize to his former assistant and Fisher refused the call, the best stuff.

“We’re done. ... He’s the greatest ever, huh? When you’ve got all the advantages, it’s easy,” Fisher said. “You coach with people like Bobby Bowden and learn how to do things. You coach with other people and learn how not to do things. There’s a reason, people, I ain’t [gone] back and worked for [Saban]. … Don’t want to be associated with him.

“You can call me anything you want to call me. You can’t call me a cheat. I don’t cheat and I don’t lie. I learned that when I was a kid. If you did, your old man slapped you upside the head. Maybe somebody should have slapped him.”

The whole situation here comes down to a new world of NIL deals in college football. Saban has said he’s not against NIL, he’s against collectives using it as a means of inducing high school players to come to a certain program. Essentially buying players.

Was there a reason Texas A&M had the best recruiting class in the country this past go-round? Yep, and it comes down to the program having a stack of opportunities — read: dollars — available to young people willing and wanting to cash in on those opportunities. A&M might be a fine school, with solid coaches and fantastic facilities, but …


As college football and basketball is attempting to get pay-for-play under control, good luck with that. It’s been going on for years, no matter what the rules have said, with certain, as Fisher called them, “advantages.” It’s just that now it’s out in the open, at least more than it once was. And some schools have been quicker to game the system than others.

Every school will have to adjust. The coaches have to adjust. Texas A&M has adjusted. Alabama will have to adjust.

Was Saban more upset with Jimbo or the Bama boosters, those who had let the Crimson Tide finish as a runner-up in something, anything at all?

Still, it may be a tad bit twisted and sick to see coaches like Saban and Fisher all naked-like go for each other’s throats — Saban has since said he meant nothing personal against Fisher, while Fisher did intend on making it personal — but it’s also shining that light on the truth.

That coaches and boosters will use “advantages,” regardless of what anyone labels them — legal or illegal, to do what they’re getting paid their millions and millions to do.


How do they do that at an elite level?

In large measure, via the same means and manner they have for a hundred years — by somehow, some way getting the players, gaining the services of players, necessary to make it happen.

It doesn’t take a slap upside the head to know that.