Jul 21, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher shown on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jimbo Fisher moves on, has ‘great respect’ for Nick Saban

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday that he has moved on from his public spat with Nick Saban and maintains “great respect for him.”

Fisher made the comments during his SEC Media Days appearance in Atlanta, perhaps putting to bed the fierce back-and-forth that began in May when Saban said Fisher had “bought every player” with NIL deals.

“Listen, we’re great. Two competitive guys that go at it. We all learn from things we do in our business. Two competitive guys on a topic that is very — everywhere, as they say,” Fisher said.

“I have great respect for Nick. Unfortunately, our thing went public. Sometimes that happens in this world. Nothing is private anymore, is it?” Fisher added.

It was a far cry from Fisher’s initial response to Saban’s remarks made in Birmingham, when he told a gathering that A&M “bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness.”

Fisher went ballistic the next day in a hastily called press conference, calling Saban a narcissist who thinks he’s God, adding that somebody should have slapped him when he was little. Fisher said he was done with Saban and refused to take his calls.

Saban repeatedly apologized for singling out Texas A&M — and others — though he didn’t back down from his point about the wild west nature of NIL deals.

“We all learn from him. We all will learn, like I say, he will learn, hopefully I learn from things we do and say, and we move on from there. But I have great respect for him and their program like always,” Fisher said Thursday.

Texas A&M opens the season at home against Sam Houston State on Sept. 3. The Aggies visit Alabama on Oct. 8.

Fisher guided the team to an 8-4 record last season and is 34-14 through four seasons in College Station, including 3-0 in bowl games.

–Field Level Media

Jul 21, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin shown on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Harsin: Inquiry into Auburn program ‘unfounded’

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin on Thursday called the February inquiry into his football program a personal attack and “unfounded.”

Harsin wasted little time addressing the February inquiry, taking it head-on in his opening remarks at SEC Media Days in Atlanta.

“There was an inquiry. It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family, and also our program. And it didn’t work,” Harsin said, adding that it would be the last time he talks about “this subject.”

The university spent roughly one week looking into the reasons behind the departure of about 20 players to the transfer portal. Five assistant coaches also left the Tigers, who finished 6-7 in Harsin’s first season with the program in 2021.

Harsin’s treatment of players and coaches was the focus of the inquiry. A variety of current and former players spoke out on social media, both in support of and against Harsin.

“What it did is it united our football team, our players, our staff,” Harsin added. “I’m really proud of our guys. … We had coaches and players that could have went to different places, avoided all the adversity and challenges. They didn’t do that.”

Harsin talked about evaluation of the program and himself, stressing the importance of “communication and relationship with your players and your coaches.”

“You go back, evaluate, how did I do those things, how did I lead,” Harsin said. “Really you want to evaluate, did the message get across and get executed. The vision that was provided, was that being executed like I expected it, and did I provide the right expectations and standards for those things.”

Auburn hired Harsin to replace Gus Malzahn after the 2020 season. Harsin compiled a 69-19 record as the head coach at Boise State from 2014-20.

Auburn opens the 2022 season at home against Mercer on Sept. 3.

–Field Level Media

Jul 20, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s Kirby Smart clarifies ‘I was done’ remark

Georgia coach Kirby Smart insisted Wednesday that his viral comments about nearly quitting 13 months ago were taken out of context.

“I was ready to step down and resign. I was done,” Smart told a group of Texas high school coaches on Tuesday in San Antonio.

The 46-year-old coach of the defending national champion Bulldogs downplayed the significance of those remarks Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Atlanta.

“You guys are searching, boy,” he said. “I tell you what, any material out there is good material.”

Smart said he was talking about the struggle of maintaining a good work/life balance that he experienced in June 2020 following the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think a lot of coaches have a sentiment and feel like last June was probably the toughest time we’ve had,” Smart said Wednesday. “Not this June. That’s a common mistake with that comment because it was very different. Last June was the first time in over 14, 15, 16 months that kids had been to campus. A lot of our coaches and a lot of coaches in the profession, it was just unrealistic because they had things called OCEs. On campus evaluations, which allowed you to work out at any time they wanted to work out.

“Nobody really talked about it much, but a lot of their Texas coaches knew about it. They asked specifically about that and so when I said it, I said it wore us out. We were all done. So nothing much meant by it. Just frustrated with how it was and happy with the way it was this June because this June I wouldn’t say was much easier, but it was much better. We were much better prepared to handle it because there weren’t as many kids coming.”

During his time on the dais, Smart was also asked about his ongoing salary talks and the controversy over name, image and likeness deals.

In his sixth season in Athens in 2021, Smart guided Georgia to a 14-1 record and a 33-18 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game for the Bulldogs’ first championship since the 1980 season.

Smart is 66-15 overall and 6-2 in bowl games since taking the reins in Georgia. After making more than $7 million last season, Smart and his agent are reportedly finalizing a significant salary hike. He said he isn’t worried about when the deal gets done.

“I think people think it’s just a number and a year, but there’s so much more that goes into it,” he said. “There’s so much more of a contract that have to be spelled out correctly on both sides and we’re trying to make sure we do that.

“… I’m not concerned at all about it. They have been tremendous with their communication and I’m completely comfortable with where everything is. Both sides have worked really hard at getting things done and things have been great. I cannot say more with what they’ve been willing to do and the communication that we’ve had. It’s just not as easy as you think it is.”

Regarding NIL deals, Smart declined to divulge the dollar amount his players have received. Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday that his guys earned more than $3 million in the first year of the NIL era.

“I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t even want to do that because I feel like that’d be copy catting and carrying over,” he said. “Trust me, there’s a lot there. … We arguably had the highest paid defensive lineman, highest paid tight end and highest paid cornerback in the NIL market. Because after the national championship, those three guys exploded, one talking about (defensive tackle) Jordan Davis and the other two are obvious (tight end Brock Bowers and cornerback Kelee Ringo). When you look at that, it’s pretty substantial that we have depth in our NIL market.”

Smart also provided a few injury updates, including for Bowers. He is ready for the start of practice in August after undergoing offseason labrum surgery. Linebackers Smael Mondon and C.J. Madden and defensive lineman Bear Alexander are also recovered from shoulder issues. Guard Tate Rutledge, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in last season’s opener, is also taking reps.

The Bulldogs open the season against Oregon in the Sept. 3 Chick-fil-A Kickoff at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

–Field Level Media

Jul 19, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach shown on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach on SEC realignment: ‘Let me handle that’

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said realigning the SEC will be a snap when Texas and Oklahoma arrive in 2025.

“They oughta let me handle that,” Leach said Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “I’ll have that done by lunch. I think it would be brilliant to let me handle it.”

Leach suggested moving Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East and letting Oklahoma and Texas join his Bulldogs in the SEC West.

“You knock those guys off and send them to the East and we have to play Texas and OU, tell me how I’ve lost on that deal,” Leach said. “I have a lot of respect for those guys, but in this conference they can just go ahead and get in line with everybody else.”

Leach, 61, is entering his third season in Starkville, Miss. Mississippi State finished 7-6 last season after going 4-7 in his first year on campus in 2020.

Leach coached against Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 at Texas Tech from 2000-09.

Never shy about giving an opinion, Leach touched on a wide range of subjects during his time on the dais Tuesday, Topics included the beef between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher over name, image and likeness deals, as well as the dance moves of LSU’s Brian Kelly and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer.

Back in May, Saban made a crack that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team.” Fisher insisted the Aggies broke no rules and questioned Saban’s character, with both coaches ultimately receiving reprimands from the SEC.

Leach said the current NIL situation — Saban said his players earned more than $3 million in deals in the past year — is “not sustainable.”

“I think they both kind of illustrate the frustration of how things are right now and it’s not sustainable, so something’s going to change,” Leach said. “We haven’t defined what exactly is an amateur, or a student-athlete, as opposed to a professional, and I think we need to do that. I think there is ways to do it.”

As for dancing coaches, Leach gave Beamer the nod over Kelly after the South Carolina coach’s performance went viral on Tuesday.

“Some of those guys are into this stuff,” Leach said. “I mean, can you imagine that? (Beamer) is definitely up there. Let’s think this through. I don’t know, you’ve got to give Coach Kelly an A for effort. But I do think it was more effort than ability. I don’t know, maybe Beamer. I think Beamer is the guy to beat right now.”

Mississippi State opens the season at home against Memphis on Sept. 3.

–Field Level Media

Jul 18, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Lane Kiffin renews criticism of NIL compensation

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin did not hesitate to renew his concerns regarding name, image and likeness when he took to the podium at SEC Media Days in Atlanta on Monday.

Kiffin originally expressed his grievances with NIL during an interview on National Signing Day in February, making some light-hearted comments regarding the amount of money he believed Texas and Texas A&M offered recruits in the 2022 recruiting class.

Kiffin, who will be in his third season at Ole Miss, his fourth head coaching job, has not been reluctant to share his feelings about rules for providing compensation to college athletes.

“It’s like a payroll in baseball,” Kiffin said Monday. “What teams win over a long period of time? Teams that have high payrolls and can pay players a lot. We’re in a situation not any different than that. I said day one, you legalize cheating, so get ready for the people that have the most money to get players. Now you have it.”

Kiffin was also bothered that there is no upper limit on NIL funds, and coaches do not determine how those funds are distributed.

“If you got boosters out there deciding who they’re gonna pay to come play and the coach isn’t involved in it, how’s that work?” Kiffin said. “Do they just go pick who they want?”

First-year LSU head coach Brian Kelly chimed in on NIL, but with a much softer stance.

“I don’t feel like we’re being outbid by anybody,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that’s the place of NIL anyway.”

Kiffin is 77-42 in stints with Tennessee (2009), Southern California (2010-13), Florida Atlantic (2017-19) and Ole Miss (2020-21).

In Kelly’s 18 seasons, he is 166-62, including 113-40 in 12 years at Notre Dame before he took the LSU job in November. He also coached at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

–Field Level Media