During "scandals" such as Spygate and Deflategate, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick earned his share of undesirable labels. "Beli-cheat" and the like.
But his longtime friend, confidant, assistant coach and runnin' buddy Nick Saban - the two even filmed an Art of Coaching documentary for HBO - is taking unprecedented heat and criticism this week. And not from jealous fans or skeptical media, but rather very high-profile peers.
Saban, who was Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns 1991-94 and has gone on to be the winningest coach in college football history at Alabama, started a firestorm when he criticized the NIL-fueled recruiting tactics of Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher and Jackson State's Deion Sanders.
Bill and Vince
Belichick and Saban
Belichick and Saban remain close, with the Pats coach often consulting the Crimson Tide boss for recruiting insight. New England recently drafted quarterback Mac Jones, defensive lineman Christian Barmore, linebacker Anfernee Jennings and running back Damien Harris from Alabama.
Like Belichick, Saban is a coach and "personnel boss" who craves control. But in picking a fight with Fisher and Sanders, he's now in a brouhaha with coaches not afraid to take the gloves off.
"You best believe I will address that lie coach Saban told,'' said Sanders, the Dallas Cowboys and NFL legend now coaching at Jackson State.
And Fisher's response to similar accusations?
Saban, Fisher said on Thursday, is "despicable.''
"We were second in recruiting last year. (Texas) A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team," Saban said at an event in Birmingham on Wednesday night. "Made a deal for name, image, and likeness. We didn’t buy one player.''
And he continued, not just roasting the rival Aggies but also Sanders' HBCU program.
“We have a rule right now that said you cannot use name, image and likeness to entice a player to come to your school. Hell, read about it in the paper!” Saban said. “I mean, Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school. It was in the paper and they bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it.”
Bill's coaching tree
Sanders is livid about the accusation as it regards the recruiting of Travis Hunter.
"We as a people don’t have to pay our people to play with our people,'' Sanders wrote.
This is not new territory for Saban, who after Texas A&M upset the No. 1 Tide in College Station last season seemed particularly angry with his former pupil, Fisher, and the way the Aggies conduct their business.
Saban doesn't disagree with the NIL at its core. He actually believes that players deserve the opportunity to earn money. His point is that at Alabama, it's being done "the right way.'' ... and that his competition is at the very least coloring outside the lines.
“The issue and the problem with name, image and likeness is coaches try to create an advantage for themselves by going out and saying, ‘OK, how can we use this to our advantage?’” Saban said. "That’s not what (NIL) was supposed to be. That’s what it’s become and that’s the problem in college athletics right now.”
It is inarguably a problem. But it is a problem born of a system that has made Saban rich, powerful and famous. That system is college sports itself, and the often fraudulent concept that these are "amateur athletes'' and "student/athletes'' and that their scholarship is reward enough.
We don't remember Saban railing against that seedy underbelly while first LSU and then Alabama used every single rule - maybe coloring right to the edge of the lines? - to win him seven national championships.
But now, suddenly, it's not acceptable to push the envelope?
Saban should be careful here as he angrily tosses his feces to see what sticks. ... because as holier-than-thou as he suggests his program is, that feces can always bounce off the wall and back at the tosser.
Knowing how close they are, it wouldn't be surprising if Saban called his ol' buddy Belichick for advice on how to deal with this war of words.