DESTIN, Fla. — Alabama football coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday that he never should have singled out Texas A&M when he accused the Aggies of using name, image and likeness deals to buy their top-ranked recruiting class during public comments he made two weeks ago.
But Saban was quick to add that, “I didn’t really say that anybody did anything wrong.”
At one point, a reporter interjected, pointing out to Saban that he had said A&M had “bought every player.”
“I didn’t say anybody did anything wrong,” Saban reiterated.
Name, image and likeness rules allow players to earn money through endorsement deals, but oversight from the NCAA has been scarce, leading to frustration among coaches.
But when Saban called out Texas A&M by name, it heated up the national conversation.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher took offense to Saban’s earlier comments, holding a hastily set-up news conference the following day in which he called what Saban said “despicable” and insisted, “we never bought anybody,” and “no rules are broken.”
Fisher called Saban a “narcissist” and said that when Saban called, he didn’t pick up.
Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000 to 2004, said “we’re done” with their relationship.
Five of the SEC’s 14 head coaches met with the media before the start of spring meetings in Florida, but Fisher wasn’t among them.
Saban said on Tuesday, “I should have never mentioned any individual institutions.”
Saban was asked by a reporter if Fisher was lying when he said Texas A&M did nothing wrong in its use of NIL.
“I have no problem with Jimbo at all,” Saban said.
In October, for the first time in 26 attempts, Saban lost to one of his former assistants when Fisher led Texas A&M to a 41-38 win over Alabama in College Station.
Saban tried to steer the conversation away from Fisher, instead focusing on his issues with the current NIL landscape and how it can be improved.
Saban, who said he is in favor of players making money, called for transparency, protection for players who might not be aware of what the contracts they sign entail and for the removal of boosters from the recruiting process.
Boosters have begun to pool their money into collectives in order to sign high school players to NIL deals.
“Boosters should continue to be precluded from recruiting, including use of name, image and likeness offers prior to enrollment,” Saban said.
He added, “I just hope that we can sort of put some guardrails on all this.”
Saban wasn’t the only SEC coach to express that sentiment.
Florida coach Billy Napier said, “We’re living in a land with no laws.”
Napier, who worked as Saban’s assistant at Alabama, refused to be drawn into the Saban-Fisher spat.
“I’m not foolish enough to get caught commenting about that situation,” he said.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who worked with Saban and Fisher at LSU, said he has spent no time thinking about their verbal back-and-forth since it happened. If reporters were surprised by their comments, Smart said they should listen to what’s said on headphones during game days.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said Fisher and Saban should probably have not allowed their disagreement to become public, but said of NIL, “It is a real issue and we need to find real solutions.”
“When tensions are high and uncertainty is high, people’s emotions are strong,” Drinkwitz said. “I think that’s what happened. We’re all competitive.”
Asked about the interactions between Saban and Fisher during meetings on Tuesday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, “They’ll have to answer that.”
Sankey and the league office publicly reprimanded both coaches after their comments last month.
But Sankey acknowledged what was said by the coaches earlier: Between NIL and the transfer portal, “it’s a frustrating time” for coaches.
“That’s not to defend or represent anything,” he said. “… If anything, I’ve encouraged that it’s your responsibility as a leader to talk about your players and your team.”