By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — Alabama coach Nick Saban tried to put an end to his feud with Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher on Tuesday as Southeastern Conference leaders gathered for spring meetings at a resort on the Florida Gulf Coast.
“I didn’t really say that anybody did anything wrong,” Saban said when asked if he had evidence that Texas A&M has been buying players with name, image and likeness compensation deals. “OK, and I’ve said everything I’m going to say about this. I should have never mentioned any individual institutions as I’ve said that before.”
Saban added: “I have no problem with Jimbo. I have no problem with Jimbo at all.”
Saban set off Fisher two weeks ago when he called out Texas A&M and other schools while talking about the need for NIL regulation in college sports.
Fisher responded angrily, saying Saban’s comments were despicable and calling his former boss at LSU a “narcissist” while denying any wrongdoing with his program that landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2022.
Both coaches received a public reprimand from the conference office.
The SEC spring meetings — taking place in person for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic —- were the first opportunity for the two superstar coaches to meet face-to-face since the dustup. Fisher was not scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the coaches had a “healthy meeting” and a good exchange of ideas.
“I think before we ever showed up there was a recognition we expect people to behave themselves,” Sankey said. “It’s a frustrating time. That’s not to defend or represent anything. If anything, I’ve encouraged (the coaches) it is your responsibility as a leader is to talk about your players and your team. Universally.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart downplayed the back and forth between Fisher and Saban. Smart worked under Saban for years, including a season at LSU when Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator.
“You guys should be on the headphones sometimes,” Smart said, referencing the interaction between coaches on game days. “It just happened in front of everybody.”
Before heading into what was scheduled to be a five-hour meeting with all 14 SEC coaches, Saban met with reporters for about 10 minutes. The first question Saban he was asked was about Texas A&M and he quickly pivoted into trying to make a broader point about NIL.
“Some kind of uniform name, image and likeness standard that supports some kind of equitable, national competition I think is really, really important in college athletics and college football,” Saban said.
Saban said transparency was needed to ensure athletes are signing legitimate deals that pay them for their services and that boosters needed to be kept out of recruiting.
The NCAA lifted most of its rules barring athletes from earning money from sponsorship and endorsement deals last July, but there are concerns among many in college sports that NIL deals are being used as recruiting inducements and de facto pay-for-play. The NCAA issued guidance to Division I members in early May to make clear booster-funded collectives being involved in recruiting is a rules violation.
“Believe me, I’m all for players making as much as they can make,” Saban said. “But I also think we’ve got to have some uniform, transparent way to do that.”
Florida coach Billy Napier, another former Saban assistant and newcomer to the SEC in his first year in Gainesville, ducked commenting about Saban and Fisher, but agreed the current situation with NIL compensation is difficult to manage.
“We’re living in a land of no laws,” Napier said, but added he has no qualms with football players taking home some of the millions in revenue they generate.
“It’s foolish to say the players don’t deserve a piece of the pie,” Napier said. “If there’s no players in the stadium there’s nobody sitting in the stands, and nobody sitting at home watching on TV.”
Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin called the meeting “pretty normal,” and noted that when it comes to NIL discussions there is far more agreement than conflict among the coaches.
“I guess the best way to describe it is somehow our group is more professional in the room together than they are when they’re on camera by themselves,” Kiffin said after the day’s work was complete.
Saban reiterated Alabama players made plenty of money with NIL deals last year, hiring agents to guide them through the process.
He just wants those deals to be struck after a player enrolls at a school.
“This is not about Alabama,” Saban said. “This is not about what’s best for us. I just hope we can sort of put some guardrails on all of this.”