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Deion Sanders Says Nick Saban Used Him, Jimbo Fisher As ‘Pawns’

The ongoing war of words between Deion Sanders and Nick Saban took an interesting turn Friday as the Jackson State coach continued his quest to set the record straight. 

Sanders made an appearance on the I AM ATHLETE podcast to discuss the Alabama coach’s remarks from Wednesday when Saban claimed JSU “paid a guy a million dollars last year” to play for the school, a widely-presumed reference to top recruit Travis Hunter. The Pro Football Hall of Famer said it “stung” to hear the legendary coach accuse his program of buying players, and questioned why his resumé doesn’t qualify him to coach a player of Hunter’s stature.

“So being an HBCU football coach and winning don’t qualify me? Just being a real person and there for my friends, family members, loved ones and whoever else don’t qualify me? I’ve coached in the NFL, the Under Armour All-American game for I think 14 years straight,” Sanders said, per AL.com’s Mike Rodak. “Some of the best players in the nation, so that don’t qualify me? I’ve coached high school football for a plethora of years and won four straight state championships and that don’t qualify me?

“I’m disqualified from a guy that looks like me, talks like me, walks like me and kind of want to be like me? That’s a problem for me.”

Saban’s pay-for-play accusations against Sanders extended to Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who blasted his fellow SEC coach and former colleague during a Thursday press conference. Saban has since issued a public apology to both Sanders and Fisher for his comments, saying in part, “I should have never singled anybody out.”

Sanders, who also ripped Saban in a series of tweets Wednesday night, told I AM ATHLETE Friday he believes his message was directed toward Alabama’s boosters, not the competition.

“When I look through the smoke and the fire, Coach Saban used me and used Jimbo Fisher as pawns in his plea for help from his boosters and his donors,” he said. “We were just pawns. He was really going at his people to up the ante so that he could out-do Coach Fisher.”

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Sanders continued, “Now, they just threw me in the fire because of what we accomplished in our recruiting last year with [No. 1 slot receiver recruit] Kevin Coleman and Travis, and some others. They just threw us in the fire because he was the spokesman of the all the SEC and he was the spokesman for all the Power 5s and the PWIs [predominantly-white institutions] by saying, ‘We can’t let that happen again now.’ … I don’t blame him, man. I know what he’s trying to do. I saw through the bull-chop. I really did.”

While Sanders stated he wants to keep things professional, he also stated he felt he has to “check [Saban], so he knows don’t play with me.” He further doubled down on comments he made to ESPN’s Andscape about settling the feud in public where it began, and told I AM ATHLETE, “If you go at me in public, we got to deal with it in public. Don’t go at me in public and try to solve it in private. We can’t do that. Let’s come on a forum publicly and then deal with it, publicly.” 

Although it seems unlikely Sanders will get his wish anytime soon following the SEC’s media availability ban against its coaches on Friday, the NFL legend made it clear in the meantime that he is not the type to hold onto to any grievances. Sanders explained that he “still admires” Saban despite the optics of their current situation.

“You got to understand: I don’t hold grudges. I have the utmost respect for Coach Saban,” he said. “I think—I don’t think, I know—Coach Saban is the magna cum laude to me of all of college football coaches. Coach Saban, what he’s accomplished in college football may never be accomplished again. I love how he is as a coach.

“What he said and what he did, that’s just the moment, man. I’m not going to put him a category just because he had a bad moment. That’s not how it is. He had a bad moment. He got caught up. He had a bad moment.”

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