The simmering feud between Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher reached a new level of nastiness on Thursday.
Less than a day after Saban had accused Texas A&M of using Name, Image and Likeness money to “buy players” in their top-ranked 2022 recruiting class during a speaking engagement Wednesday night in Birmingham, Fisher delivered a many-times-more-than proportional response in a hastily called press conference Thursday in College Station. You’ve probably heard/read the details by now, but if not, you can do so HERE, HERE and HERE.
However, Saban and Fisher aren’t the first SEC football coaching colleagues who didn’t see eye-to-eye. Here are eight other memorable feuds over the years involving SEC football coaches:
1. Bear Bryant vs. Bobby Dodd (early 1960s)
Dodd’s Georgia Tech program was the class of the SEC for most of the 1940s and 1950s, a reign interrupted when Bryant returned to Alabama as head coach prior to the 1958 season. Grudging respect became simply a grudge in 1961, when Alabama’s Darwin Holt delivered a vicious (some would say dirty) blow to the face of Georgia Tech’s Chick Graning during a punt play in the Crimson Tide’s 10-0 victory in Birmingham. Graning was hospitalized with multiple facial injuries, and the Georgia Tech community — not to mention the sports writers who covered the team — was outraged. Dodd wrote a letter of protest to Bryant after he refused to discipline Holt, though the two mostly kept any harsh words out of the public sphere. The feud boiled over the following year, when Atlanta sports writer Furman Bisher authored an article in the Saturday Evening Post magazine accusing Bryant of teaching brutal tactics and containing numerous quotes from Dodd. The incident soured the friendship between the old rivals, who quit playing for good when the Yellow Jackets left the SEC following the 1964 season. Dodd always said Georgia Tech departed over SEC scholarship rules, but many believe the Holt-Graning incident planted the seed.
2. Pat Dye vs. Vince Dooley (1988)
Dye and Dooley were always in an interesting juxtaposition, given that Dye was a Georgia graduate coaching at Auburn and Dooley was an Auburn man coaching at Georgia. The two conducted a mostly clean rivalry during the eight seasons they shared the field, with Dye’s Tigers winning five of those meetings. However, Dye ran afoul of Dooley during some comments he made at SEC Media Days in 1988, when he accused Dooley’s program of “circumventing a rule” against league schools accepting partial qualifiers by steering those players to junior college (something that would become a common practice in later years). Dye would rather those players go to four-year colleges, where they wouldn’t be allowed to practice or play their first year but would get the academic and social support a big school could provide. Dooley, speaking the following day, allowed that he and Dye “didn’t see eye to eye” on the issue, and probably never would. It wasn’t exactly Saban vs. Fisher, but it was a rare occasion of two successful SEC coaches taking their disagreement to a public forum.
3. Jackie Sherrill vs. Billy Brewer (early 1990s)
Few rivalries in college football are as nasty as Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, a bitterness that has many times spilled out into the fanbases and players during games. Occasionally, even the coaches have gotten involved. Such was the case in 1991, when Jackie Sherrill took over the Bulldogs’ program after several years recruiting the state while at Pittsburgh and Texas A&M (Sherrill grew up in Oklahoma, but attended high school in Biloxi, Miss.). Brewer, then well into his tenure in Oxford, called Sherrill a “habitual liar” regarding his questionable recruiting tactics during an interview with a Mississippi newspaper. Sherrill shot back that Brewer “didn’t know what the word ‘habitual’ means.” Brewer was ousted at Ole Miss amid an NCAA investigation in 1994, but Sherrill continued to take an oh-so-subtle dig at the Rebels for the remainder of his tenure in Starkville. Instead of referring to his rival as the preferred “Ole Miss,” he repeatedly called the Rebels “Mississippi.”
4. Steve Spurrier vs. Phillip Fulmer (1990s)
Few coaches in the history of the SEC could get under a rival’s skin the way Spurrier did during his Florida heyday in the 1990s. And more often than not, the subject of Spurrier’s barbs were Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee Volunteers. Spurrier tormented the Volunteers both on and off the field for much of the decade, memorably quipping “You can’t spell Citrus Bowl without U-T” and speculating that Peyton Manning returned to college for his senior year so that he could be MVP of the Citrus Bowl (then the consolation game for the SEC’s runner-up) for a third time. When Fulmer complained about the talent gap between the Volunteers and Gators in 1994, Spurrier replied Fulmer’s statement was “a good little cop-out for coaches who are not winning.” Fulmer finally got the best of Spurrier on the field in 1998, when the Volunteers won the SEC and national championships. The rivalry between the two faded a bit after that, so much so that Fulmer admitted in 2008 that the two got along quite well and that he knew Spurrier’s antics were mostly for show.
5. Steve Spurrier vs. Mike DuBose (late 1990s)
DuBose’s tenure had very few highlights on the field, but one (or two, to be correct) occurred during the 1999 season, when Alabama beat Florida twice — 40-39 in overtime during the regular season and 34-7 in the SEC championship game. What angered Spurrier even further was that the Crimson Tide was beating the Gators off the field as well. Alabama signed a string of highly regarded recruiting classes under DuBose from 1998-2000, groups that included longtime Florida targets Travis Carroll (a linebacker from Jacksonville) and Justin Smiley (an offensive lineman from south Georgia). Rumors began to circulate that Alabama had broken NCAA rules to sign Carroll and Smiley, and Spurrier believed he had the smoking gun. Though the document was not made public until released by the NCAA in 2001, Spurrier wrote a letter to DuBose, alleging Alabama had used illegal car deals as inducements to sign Carroll and Smiley and threatening to turn DuBose in to the SEC office. Spurrier vowed “you are not going to buy players from me without an investigation of some kind.” DuBose was fired near the end of the 2000 season, and Alabama was hit with major NCAA sanctions some 18 months later.
6. Nick Saban vs. Dennis Franchione (2002)
Franchione’s Alabama tenure was a short one, lasting just two years before he left for Texas A&M. Perhaps the high point on the field was a 31-0 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge in 2002, a still hard-to-fathom and nearly unprecedented domination of a Saban-coached team. Franchione used his mid-field meeting with Saban after the game to wag a finger in Saban’s face and make accusations about a post-game speech to his team Saban had allegedly delivered the previous week, following the legendary “Blue Grass Miracle” victory at Kentucky. In a purported “transcript” that made the rounds on internet message boards, Saban was said to have questioned the audacity of Alabama’s team, which was claiming the title of “Best in the West” despite being ineligible for the SEC West championship due to NCAA sanctions. Saban denied the speech took place, claiming the author “made it all up.” The message board poster (whose true identity was never revealed) later posted as retraction, but it’s possible Alabama used it as motivational kindle to spark its best performance of the season.
7. Lane Kiffin vs. Urban Meyer (2009)
Perhaps the closest thing we’ve had to Saban vs. Fisher came during Kiffin’s brief-but-eventful tenure at Tennessee. The brash, young Kiffin (just 34 at the time) made enemies throughout the SEC in his one year with the Volunteers, but directed most of his barbs at Florida and Urban Meyer, which was then coming off a second national championship in three years. On National Signing Day 2009, Kiffin told a room full of boosters “I’m going to turn Florida in right here in front of you” regarding the recruitment of wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson, a highly touted Florida high school wide receiver who had signed with Tennessee. Kiffin then told the crowd that Meyer had repeatedly made phone calls to Richardson while he was on his official visit to Knoxville, which he said was against NCAA rules (it wasn’t). Kiffin then said “I love the fact that Urban Meyer had to cheat and still didn’t get him.” Kiffin was publicly reprimanded by SEC commissioner Mike Slive for violating the league’s code of ethics, which prohibits coaches or staffers from publicly criticizing another member school, coach or player (something to keep in mind vis-à-vis Saban vs. Fisher). Kiffin left after the season for USC, but returned as offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2014, and later became head coach at Ole Miss. Meyer was gone by then, and Kiffin has mostly stayed in the good graces of the league office.
8. Gus Malzahn vs. Bret Bielema (2013-14)
Malzahn’s Hurry-Up No-Huddle offense took the SEC by storm when he was hired as Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2009 and later became the Tigers’ head coach in 2013. Defensive-minded coaches like Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema grasped at ways to keep up, both arguing that the offensive style should be outlawed or at least curtailed by rules changes. Bielema went so far as to make an appeal for the health of his players, making the ludicrous argument that players with sickle cell trait (a blood anomaly common among African-Americans) might be in danger of collapsing and dying during games if offenses like Auburn weren’t made to slow down. Bielema also accused Auburn of doctoring game film so that particular formations didn’t show up on the “All 22″ coaches tape they sent to Arkansas prior to the teams playing. Never one to take the bait, Malzahn said he figured Bielema was just joking with his wild accusations. Still, the relationship between the two was cool at best for the remainder of their tenures in the SEC.
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