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The Added Meaning Behind Jimbo Fisher’s Gloves-Off Comments About Nick Saban

The rant from the Texas A&M coach was sparked by Nick Saban, but the emotion behind the response has been building for months.

Over 10 minutes, during a hastily thrown together press conference Thursday morning, Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher responded to comments made by Nick Saban with a flamethrower, directly targeting the Alabama coach and squashing whatever you thought their relationship was.

Fisher was responding to Saban’s comments at a World Games event in Birmingham on Wednesday, when Saban said Texas A&M “bought every player on their team, made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player.”

As reporters, we often ask for honesty from athletes and coaches. But in a day and age when they consider their brands above all else, we rarely get it. And Fisher dropped any veil of media training in this no-holds barred spew of takes that harkened back to when anyone would say anything on the record.

Whether Fisher has said much of this behind closed doors is unclear, but we don’t have to guess or infer meaning from coded language or side-eyed threats when Fisher just came out and said what he did Thursday.

Here are a few key comments you might have missed from Fisher’s impromptu session with reporters.

“It’s the second time we’ve had to do this.”

Fisher was referring to comments he made during a Signing Day press conference in February, when he publicly and vehemently responded to people in college sports’ pointing the finger at how A&M goes about its business on the recruiting trail. The rumor was started by a message board user with the alias Sliced Bread (seriously) and spread like wildfire. He pointed the finger generally at coaches and specifically at a Notre Dame administrator as those who fanned the flames.

So while it’s not the most shocking comment from Thursday’s session, it is important context around how Fisher was already unhappy about people going after his program. In many ways, this is the sequel to that rant.

“Some people think they’re God. Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal. … 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.”

In February, Fisher said, “I know some of how those guys recruit, too. Go dig into that. … I know the history and the tradition and I know things.” It was a much more generalized shot across the bow. Thursday was obviously more specifically targeted at Saban and Alabama. Fisher repeatedly used the word “despicable” and called out the Alabama coach’s ego as “the narcissist in him.”

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“What’s funny, in that talk right before he said that about us, wasn’t he soliciting funds from the crowd? It’s amazing … but when you walk on water, I guess it don’t matter.”

It is true Saban was speaking to local business leaders Wednesday night. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know Saban doesn’t say things like this by accident and was sending a subtle message that Alabama needs to do more in the NIL space to compete. It was similar to his 2013 comments, when he strategically railed against up-tempo, high-scoring offenses before evolving Bama’s offensive blueprint and winning more national championships because of it.

Fisher hit hard on the comments surrounding A&M’s perceived collective dealings, saying “the hypocrisy is a joke.” It is another example of how he turned his February comments up a notch.

“You can call me anything you want to call me, but you ain’t calling me a cheat. I don’t cheat and I don’t lie. I learned that when I was a kid if you did, the old man slapped you upside the head. Maybe somebody should’ve slapped him. … Now you’re fooling with our name.”

It is clear Fisher took Saban’s comments personally. Fisher added how he was speaking for the young players in his program and his coaching staff, as well in his role as coach. Many can empathize with being called a liar and cheater, or the perception of that, and Fisher echoed that. However, the cheating claims are not completely unfounded, given that Fisher did receive a six-month show cause from the NCAA for recruiting violations in 2020.

“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 I ain’t went back and worked for [Saban]—with opportunities. Don’t want to be associated with him.”

“When people show you who they are, believe them. He’s showing you who he is.”

Throw all the cushy stuff out of the window about their history working together. As a former Saban assistant, Fisher is assumed to have a closeness to the Alabama coach. Fisher worked for Saban at LSU for four seasons but did not follow him to the Miami Dolphins or Alabama in 2007, instead going to Florida State to be with Bowden as a head coach in waiting after missing out on the UAB head job. It ended up being a great move for Fisher, but that perhaps gives a bit of insight into why he didn’t want to join Saban again.

Fisher’s gloves-off comments about Saban are unfiltered. Fisher also said Saban had tried to call him Wednesday night, but he ignored it. “Not going to [answer the phone]. We’re done.”

Fisher may want that, but he won’t be able to avoid Saban for long. They’ll be in the same room together in less than two weeks during SEC spring meetings. It seems doubtful they’ll kiss and make up beforehand, but it isn’t like they won’t see each other again until their Oct. 8 clash in Tuscaloosa. 

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