A long-awaited clash between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher is set for Saturday as Saban’s No. 1 Crimson Tide host Fisher’s Aggies in an SEC West showdown at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. This is not just a game that carries divisional implications in the SEC race; it also features a juicy underlying story. Saban and Fisher entered a war of words in May that became arguably the top story of college football‘s offseason when Saban accused the Aggies of having “bought every player on their team” after the Aggies landed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class ahead of the Crimson Tide.
Saban’s comments and Fisher’s heated response made for captivating theater at a time on the sport’s calendar when little else is happening. But the story goes deeper than a two-day verbal spat between a pair of SEC West coaches. Saban and Fisher have known each other for decades. The two even won a national title together at LSU in 2003 when Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator.
The coaches are from neighboring towns in West Virginia, and though they once worked together and famously played pickup basketball games with one another, they have been competitors in recruiting for over a decade and are now in their fifth season coaching in the same division.
Alabama is a heavy favorite this week against an Aggies squad that is struggling offensively, but Texas A&M was a huge underdog against a top-ranked Alabama team last season as well, and it came away with a monumental victory.
All told, Saban, Fisher and their teams have provided some entertaining and bombastic college football content over the past year and a half. Here is a look back at the recent timeline of their relationship as we prepare for their showdown on the field in Week 6.
Jimbo Fisher makes a pledge
May 5, 2021
Speaking to the Houston Touchdown Club, Fisher made a bold declaration in the heart of the 2021 offseason. Though he was 0-3 against Alabama and Saban as coach of the Aggies at the time, Fisher declared, “We’re going to beat his ass even when he’s there.” Fisher also lavished Saban with respect during the appearance in Houston as the Crimson Tide were coming off a 13-0 season and national title at the time. But the remark nonetheless raised eyebrows in the college football world.
Nick Saban jabs back
May 7, 2021
Saban, who was 23-0 against his former assistants at the time and coming off a 52-24 thrashing of the Aggies the season before, shot back a few days later. Asked about Fisher’s remark, Saban responded with a question of his own: “In golf?” he asked. Told that Fisher apparently meant he planned to beat Saban’s rear in football, the 69-year-old legend with an undefeated record against his former assistants didn’t seem too worried.
“I’m sure there will come a day,” Saban said. “Is that what he was talking about? Football?”
Texas A&M pulls stunner
Oct. 9, 2021
Texas A&M pulled off the marquee upset of the 2021 college football season — and one for the history books — when it took down No. 1 Alabama 41-38 in front of 106,815 fans at Kyle Field. The outcome garnered Fisher the honor of being the first former assistant Saban assistant to beat the master in a head-to-head matchup.
The circumstances of the game made the outcome especially remarkable. Alabama entered as a 17.5-point favorite against an Aggies squad that was 0-2 in SEC play and struggling offensively with backup quarterback Zach Calzada. But against the Crimson Tide, Calzada turned in a legendary performance as he led game-tying and game-winning drives in the fourth quarter — fighting through an injury in the process — to become an unlikely hero.
Texas A&M signs record class
Feb. 2, 2022
Texas A&M’s win over Alabama sparked a four-game winning streak, and the Aggies rose to No. 11 in the AP Top 25 poll before losing two of their final three games to finish with a pedestrian 8-4 record. But that didn’t stop the Aggies from landing an incredible recruiting class.
Fisher put the finishing touches on the highest-rated recruiting class of the 247Sports era with a Feb. 2 commitment from five-star defensive lineman Shemar Stewart on traditional National Signing Day. His addition gave Texas A&M seven five-star prospects for the class and a final rating that surpassed Alabama’s 2021 class for the best of all time.
Nick Saban lights a fire
May 18, 2022
An otherwise routine speaking engagement for Saban sent the offseason into overdrive when he said that “A&M bought every player on their team.” The remark was part of a Saban rant on the changes brought to college football with the introduction of the name, image and likeness era. While Saban didn’t directly accuse the Aggies of cheating, the implication from the Alabama coach was that Texas A&M is using NIL as a recruiting inducement, which is not allowed.
“We didn’t buy one player,” Saban said. “But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future because more and more people are doing it.”
Jimbo Fisher goes off
May 19, 2022
The morning after Saban’s comments, Fisher called a press conference specifically to address the issue, and it was legendary. In his comments, the fast-talking Fisher called Saban a narcissist, mockingly referred to him as God and said it’s “despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way or things don’t go his way.”
“We never bought anybody,” Fisher said. “No rules were broken, nothing was done wrong.”
Nick Saban apologizes
May 19, 2022
Hours after Fisher’s impassioned retort, Saban attempted to calm the waters during an appearance on ESPNU Radio. He apologized for singling out Texas A&M — as well as Jackson State and coach Deion Sanders — during his rant about issues with recruiting and NIL in college sports. He maintained he wasn’t accusing anyone of breaking rules.
“I really wasn’t saying that anyone did anything illegal in using name, image and likeness,” Saban said. “I didn’t say that. That was something that was assumed by what I said, which is not really what I meant, nor was it what I said. There’s nothing illegal about doing this. It’s the system that allows you to do it, and that’s the issue that I have.”
Burying the hatchet
July 22, 2022
By the time SEC Media Days rolled around in late July, however, the two claimed to have put the issue behind them.
“We’ve moved on,” Fisher said.
“I have no issues or problems with Jimbo,” Saban said. “I always take criticisms or whatever in a positive way to self-assess me personally in terms of maybe there is something I can do better. So any comments that anybody makes — you or any coach — I always take into consideration.”