Canzano: Did Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher just go nuclear?!?
High-profile coaches square off publicly.
Nick Saban is 70 and has more than $100 million in career earnings. Which is only to say that the Alabama football coach has reached the apex of, “I am going to say whatever the f**k needs to be said.”
The universe handed him a microphone on Wednesday night.
Saban aimed a seven-minute monologue at Texas A&M and some others on the name-image-likeness front. He was speaking at an event for the World Games, which will be held in Birmingham, Ala., in July.
Said Saban: “We were second in recruiting last year. 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. 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.”
Saban could have dropped the mic on the spot. College athletes should be allowed to benefit from their endorsement, but we’re currently waist-deep in a system that is pitting booster collectives against each other, pooling money to buy players.
“Our job is not to buy you to come to school here,” Saban said to the room filled with Alabama fans. “I don’t know how you manage the locker room and I don’t know if this is a sustainable model because one of you folks are going to give some player who comes to our school a bunch of money. And you’re going to come to the game in full strut, telling everybody, ‘I got that guy to come to Alabama.’ Then, he’s not going to play and he’s going to transfer and you’re going to say, ‘I’m never going to do that again.’
“I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how you sustain a model like that.”
Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M was told about Saban’s comments and called them, “ridiculous, irresponsible, and unbelievable.” He then labeled Saban as a “narcissist” — which may be true of more than one head coach — and Fisher urged reporters to dig deeper.
“I know how some of those guys recruit, too,” Fisher said. “Go dig into that. I know the history, I know the tradition and I know things. Trust me, you don't want to go down that avenue.”
Actually, I really do want to go down that avenue.
“We never bought anybody, no rules were broken… we’ve never done anything that goes against the laws of the state of Texas,” Fisher continued. “Some people think they’re God. Well, go dig into his past or ask anyone who’s coached with him, find out what he does and how he does it. Go dig into how ‘God’ did his deal. You may find out about a lot of things you don’t want to know.”
Fisher is 56 and sounds like he’s just warming up. While we wait, maybe what we have here is an opportunity to let some much-needed sunshine in the room. Also, to think about whether Saban is right or just bitter that he didn't have the No. 1 recruiting class.
Recruiting has always brought out the best (and worst) in coaches. I’ve heard some wild (and hilarious) things over the years.
I covered legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian at a prior stop. Tark told me once, “I broke rules, but I didn’t break any major rules.”
Once, Tark said, he called upon Frank Sinatra to help him recruit two Italian kids who were considering UNLV. Tarkanian asked Sinatra if he might do him a favor and call the mothers of the recruits.
Sinatra made the call and even sang to the moms on the telephone. UNLV didn’t get either player, and years later, Sinatra’s 0-for-2 performance as a recruiter still bothered Tark. All you had to do was bring Sinatra up and Tarkanian would begin muttering about how lousy ‘ol blue eyes was when it mattered.
Tarkanian also told a story about long-time Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun. The two Hall of Fame coaches found themselves in pursuit of the same high school recruit when Tarkanian got some terrible news — he apparently had terminal cancer. Or at least, that was what Calhoun told the recruit.
Tarkanian did not have cancer.
But he appreciated the tactic.
“I had cancer so I didn't get the kid,” Tarkanian said. “Calhoun got him instead. But you know, I always really liked Calhoun.”
Another occasion, Tarkanian found himself pitted against Roy Williams for a recruit named DeShawn Stevenson. Williams was at Kansas at the time and Stevenson was weighing whether to skip college and enter the NBA Draft. He’d struggled to post the minimum 600 SAT score that would make him eligible as a true freshman at Kansas.
Stevenson’s best SAT score: 450.
Williams was worried. In a last-ditch attempt, Stevenson inexplicably flew across the country and re-tested at a site in North Carolina. It raised suspicions.
His new SAT score: 1150.
When I told Tarkanian the news, he paused, then quipped, “Someone oughta tell Roy Williams that kid should forget basketball.
“That kid’s a Rhodes Scholar.”
Stevenson’s SAT score was thrown out by the testing board. He skipped college, entered the NBA Draft and was a first-round pick. He played 13 seasons and won a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
So yes, Jimbo and Nick — I’d like to hear more please. Keep the dialogue going. You gave us absolute gold this week. In the meantime, in case anyone is wondering… Alabama vs. Texas A&M is scheduled for Oct. 8 in Tuscaloosa.
SWITCHING IT UP: The Pac-12’s decision to tweak the conference title game format for football ends up a nice offseason move. The North-South Division winners will no longer automatically meet in the championship game. Instead, the two teams with the best win percentages in Pac-12 competition will play for the title in Las Vegas.
I like the move. It’s a sound and sensical effort to “game” the current flawed four-team invitational system that the College Football Playoff uses. The Pac-12 is simply working to get its best two teams in the most advantageous position. The data supports it, too. The change of format would have resulted in a different Pac-12 championship matchup in 5 of the past 11 years.
For the 2022 football season, the conference will keep the schedule, as is. Also, it will keep the North-South division labels, for now, even though they don’t mean much. I suspect the Pac-12 may soon revisit this and drop the divisions altogether.
What I liked most of all?
That the Pac-12, which has been traditionally reactionary, went on offense this time. The conference sponsored the legislation, then led the way with a quick announcement. The Pac-12 waited approximately 6 minutes after the NCAA announced that conferences could dictate their own title game to announce it was making a format change.
TWEET AT YOUR OWN RISK: Full disclosure, in my Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher entry above, I struggled for a minute with how to effectively punctuate the F-word without actually using the F-word. I went down the rabbit hole, settled on “f**k” and then stumbled onto an interesting study about profanity and Twitter.
Turns out the kids at Wright State University conducted an analysis of the cussing that happens on Twitter. They looked at a 30-day sample of more than 50 million tweets from 14 million accounts and determined that Twitter users are foul mouthed.
• One in every 13 tweets contains profanity.
• The most popular curse word on Twitter is the F-bomb, which accounted for nearly 35 percent of all profane references. S**T was second at 15 percent.
• People curse more as the day goes, hitting a peak in the midnight to 1:30 a.m. window.
• Tweets on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays more frequently contain curse words.
• Cursing is not unpopular in our real-world interactions and conversations, but it occurs at a higher frequency on Twitter.
Be safe out there.
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