If this is the future of college football, then it’s going to be glorious.
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The feud between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher that boiled over into a war of words this week – Saban dubbed Fisher a cheater, while Texas A&M’s coach fired back that someone ought to look under Alabama’s hood – is the tastiest spat in American entertainment since Will Smith smacked Chris Rock during the Oscars.
The only thing missing Thursday was a physical slap, although Fisher suggested Saban needed one. Fisher settled for a series of razor-sharp verbal barbs, unlike anything ever publicly directed at Saban by a peer.
While not uncommon for celebrities to trade jabs, college football coaches usually adhere to a code of not publicly criticizing their counterparts.
The gloves are off now, though.
Because evolution within college football in the past year tilted the power structure away from the coaches. And nothing riles up coaches more than an inability to control everyone and everything around them.
Amid this sparring match, this much seems obvious: Georgia coach Kirby Smart was dead wrong when he said earlier this spring that fans might lose interest in the sport now that players can choose their school based on the best name, image and likeness deal.
If you’re a college football fan bored by the events of this offseason, get someone to check your pulse.
College football is evolving, but the changes didn’t make the sport less entertaining.
College football coaches revel in the view from their high horse. Many consider it their mission to mold young men, and, to be sure, plenty of athletes have learned and benefited from a relationship with a coach. But at its core, FBS football is an entertainment business. And I can’t recall a college football offseason more entertaining than this one.
Before we get to the verbal salvos of the past two days, let’s rewind the clock a bit.
FIGHTIN’ WORDS:Everything Jimbo Fisher said about ‘narcissist’ Nick Saban’s Texas A&M NIL comments: ‘Go dig into wherever he’s been’.
A COACH OR A DEITY?:Jimbo Fisher blasts Nick Saban over NIL allegations: ‘Some people think they’re God’.
LET’S GET THE COMMISH INVOLVED:Texas A&M reports Nick Saban’s NIL comments to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, reprimand possible.
In January, Georgia defeated Alabama in the national championship, a show of strength that an SEC East force has awakened and may persistently rival Saban’s Crimson Tide for top-dog status. The following month, Texas A&M completed the highest-ranked recruiting class in the history of the 247Sports Composite. It marked the first time a school other than Alabama or Georgia finished atop the recruiting rankings since 2010.
To put a twist on a phrase from George Costanza, “Nick is getting upset!”.
And Fisher’s ballyhooed recruiting class is squarely in Saban’s crosshairs.
Saban isn’t the first coach to insinuate that pay-for-play inducements influenced Texas A&M’s recruiting success – Fisher denies this – but no one had put it quite as bluntly as Saban did during a speaking engagement Wednesday in Birmingham.
“We were second in recruiting last year,” Saban said. “A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player.”.
Saban apologized Thursday for singling out Fisher’s program.
Normally, when Saban is airing grievances, everyone just lets it marinate for a bit and then blow over.
Remember, this is the guy who vowed last year he’d whip Saban’s ass — as Fisher put it — and followed through in October. Aggies fans stormed the field to celebrate a 41-38 thump to the Tide’s rump.
Thursday’s spanking came at the mic, when Fisher told the greatest coach of all time – and his former boss – to get the Aggies’ name out his mouth.
“Someone should have slapped him,” Fisher said.
“You’re fooling with our name, fooling with Texas A&M’s name. … I ain’t into that. I wasn’t raised that way.”.
Fisher added that Saban’s bellyaching is that of a “narcissist” who hasn’t gotten his way recently and suggested someone ought to take a peek behind Saban’s curtain.
“We built him up to be the czar of football? Go dig into his past or anybody that’s ever coached with him,” said Fisher, who spent five seasons as Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU. “You can find out anything you want to find out – what he does and how he does it. And it’s despicable. It really is.”.
That’s a burn Taylor Swift would be proud of. Talk about bad blood.
“We’re done,” Fisher said of his relationship with Saban.
The rivalry is far from finished.
As the kids say, it’s going to be lit when the Aggies roll into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 8.
And to think, all it took to ramp up this offseason heat and turn college football into year-round entertainment was allowing the players to profit off their fame. Should have done that long ago.
Notice the players aren’t complaining. The power pendulum swung in their direction, and coaches came unglued.
In response to Fisher’s evisceration of Saban, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin tweeted a popcorn emoji.
He’s not the only one enjoying this show.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.