Texas A&M officials thought Nick Saban deserved to be suspended for saying that A&M “bought every player” in its recruiting class via name, image and likeness deals.
Saban’s comments drew widespread reaction, including a fiery and personal response from Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher, who once worked for Saban. Saban quickly apologized for singling out A&M and a few other schools in his comments.
In the aftermath, Saban and Fisher were issued public reprimands by the SEC, but folks in College Station thought Saban’s comments warranted much more punishment from the league office.
Thanks to an open records request submitted by On3, we now know that A&M president M. Katherine Banks and athletic director Ross Bjork sent an email to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to “express disappointment and outrage” about the situation.
In the email, the A&M officials suggested both fining and suspending Saban. They also said, among other things, that Saban’s comments were “a blatant violation” of SEC sportsmanship bylaws, “beneath the dignity of the SEC” and “corrosive to the fabric of sportsmanship in college football as a whole.”
“We expect the league to take strong, public action against Coach Saban and the University of Alabama to demonstrate that such unprofessionalism and disrespect for Texas A&M’s student-athletes, coaches, and the university as a whole, will not be tolerated. A public apology from Coach Saban to Coach Fisher, Aggie Football, and Texas A&M University is a good starting point, but the league should also consider monetary and participation penalties against Coach Saban.”
Saban, Fisher both reprimanded by SEC
The email was sent the morning after Saban made his comments during an event in Birmingham. On the same morning the email was sent, Fisher held a news conference and had plenty to say about Saban, calling the Alabama coach a “narcissist” and saying his comments about A&M were “despicable.” Fisher also said his relationship with Saban was “done" and suggested that Saban's past isn't exactly spotless.
“Some people think they are God,” Fisher said of Saban. “Go dig into how God did his deal and you may find out a lot about a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football, go dig into his past.”
Before that news conference, Fisher and Sankey spoke on the phone and Sankey warned the coach not to violate the same sportsmanship policies that Banks and Bjork cited in their email. Once Sankey was made aware of what Fisher said during his news conference, the commissioner decided to reprimand both coaches.
The SEC had prepared a statement in the morning after Nick Saban’s comments to announce a public reprimand of Saban. Sankey wrote to Bjork that, “while working to finalize the press release focused on Coach Saban’s public comments, I was made aware of video from Coach Fisher’s press conference. After reviewing statements made by Coach Fisher, he also fell short of the expectation in SEC Bylaw 10.5.2 as he directed public criticism toward another institution’s staff member. While, to a certain extent, his desire to clarify the record is understood, elements of Coach Fisher’s comments are in conflict with the membership-established expectations.”
Sankey said both Saban and Fisher violated the conference’s “Ethical Conduct” policies.
“The membership of the Southeastern Conference has established expectations for conduct and sportsmanship that were not met last night nor today,” Sankey said May 19. “A hallmark of the SEC is intense competition within an environment of collaboration. Public criticism of any kind does not resolve issues and creates a distraction from seeking solutions for the issues facing college athletics today."
Saban, Fisher say they're moving on
Saban has not backed down from the overall tenor of his comments, which were critical of the NIL environment on the whole, but he has apologized for singling out A&M.
“I should have never really singled anybody out. That was a mistake and I really apologize for that part of it,” Saban said during a May 19 radio interview.
At the SEC meetings earlier this month, Saban said that he “didn’t really say that anybody did anything wrong” and told reporters he has “no problem with Jimbo at all.” At the meetings, Fisher said he was ready to move on from the spat.
Alabama and Texas A&M will meet on the field in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8.