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Jimbo Fisher didn't start a feud with Nick Saban, but he sure did escalate it. Was that wise?

·Columnist
·4 min read
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Confronted with Nick Saban claiming Texas A&M “bought” its entire 2022 recruiting class via name, image and likeness deals, Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher called a news conference with the sole purpose of blasting the Alabama coach.

He called Saban’s comments “despicable” and the coach himself a “narcissist.” He insinuated that his old boss at LSU has been engaged in some kind of nefarious activity for at least two decades, calling into question Saban’s seven national titles. He mocked Saban as “God.”

No, Fisher didn’t start it, but this was a full-on, full-throttle counterattack that raised the stakes of the conflict. A heated, harried Fisher leaning right into the most ferocious college sports coaching feud since John Chaney threatened to kill John Calipari nearly three decades ago.

“I don’t mind confrontation,” Fisher said. “Lived with it my whole life. Kind of like it, personally.”

It sets up some big spotlight moments for May 31 (SEC coaches meetings) and then mid-July (SEC media days) and certainly Oct. 8 (Texas A&M at Alabama). If Fisher is comfortable in it now, we’ll see as that three-act play progresses, especially on the field in Tuscaloosa.

It may not be fair considering he didn’t start this war of words, but Fisher now has an even bigger spotlight/bull's-eye on him and his program in College Station. His bold defense of his team, his players and his school serve as red meat to Aggie fans, making Fisher more popular than ever heading into his fifth season.

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 against the Clemson Tigers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU defeated Clemson 42 to 25. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Get ready for some awkward moments when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher get together in the future. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Of course, the promise of that top-ranked recruiting class — complete with six Rivals.com five-star recruits – which got under Saban's skin in the first place doesn’t hurt either.

Signing day is signing day. Offseason verbal scraps are offseason verbal scraps. Eventually you have to win. And for Fisher, after all of this, he needs to win not just against Alabama but somehow survive the toughest division in football, the SEC West.

“Since [Fisher] beat him last year, I guess he can talk now,” former Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told DawgNation over the weekend, referencing A&M’s 41-38 victory last season. “He hasn’t beat much of anybody, but he beat Saban last year. But they haven’t won the division or anything since he’s been there.”

You can leave it to the Old Ball Coach to cut to the truth.

In four seasons at A&M, Fisher has never won the SEC West, let alone the entire SEC. He hasn’t reached the College Football Playoff, although the Aggies were ranked fifth in 2020.

Fisher is 34-14 overall and just 21-12 in league play. He is coming off an 8-4 (4-4 in the SEC) season. He makes $9 million per year on his second contract with the Aggies. He is very popular with fans.

Yet his team also has the full attention of the king of the jungle over in Tuscaloosa. That victory a year ago likely already did. Now? Saban offered a half-hearted apology but there is little doubt he is focused on crushing Fisher and the Aggies in every way imaginable — from recruiting to on the field.

Fisher’s bravado and confidence in his program is admirable, but also might be ill-advised. Yes, the Aggies beat the Tide in the national recruiting rankings this year, but Alabama finished second. And that’s one year.

Saban’s program was ranked first in 2021, third in 2020 and second in 2019. He has talent to work with. A&M finished seventh, sixth and sixth. The rebuild is just beginning.

Take out Saban’s first year at Alabama (2007) and he is 176-19 at the school, including 102-12 in the SEC. He has won at least a share of the West 11 times. Bama doesn’t lose often. It’s a heck of a bully to have to square off against. It's why most coaches try to avoid raising Saban's ire.

Fisher wasn't scared, of course. Like Saban, he’s a product of small town West Virginia who found enormous success in college football, including a national title at Florida State in 2013. A&M lured him in with a $75 million deal and has since upped that to a new, nearly $100 million contract.

To earn it, he’ll have to beat Alabama regularly with zero chance the Tide are sleeping on the matchup. Then he’ll have to get to Atlanta and beyond. That 2022 recruiting class is impressive – no matter how it was assembled – but one class does not assure a juggernaut.

So this confrontation that Fisher didn't start and is more than comfortable in may wind up defining him. All eyes on the Aggies.

Saban is unlikely to engage again in any verbal battles going forward. That isn't his style. He won’t forget what was said though.

A date with Jimbo Fisher is coming. Each fall. Every fall. It’s up to Fisher to have his program ready in a game where words mean nothing.