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Publicly, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey rightfully acted in disgust and put off by the war of words that ensued this week between Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M boss Jimbo Fisher over NIL payments/recruiting.
It was a petty, pot-calling-the-kettle-black spat, but the truth is this may also serve the same purpose as a professional wrestling script or friction among NASCAR drivers. Translation: a good ol’ feud is good for the ‘Bama-A&M rivalry, TV ratings and putting money in the SEC coffers.
Saban fired the opening salvo, saying “A&M bought every player on their team — made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player, all right?”
First of all, whatever you think of Fisher and his laissez-faire attitude in his final season at Florida State (2017) and disconsolate exit, the rules allow for NIL deals right now with no real parameters and there’s no proof Jimbo crossed any lines.
It comes across as sour grapes for Saban to cry foul in this instance against a high-profile former assistant, which led to Fisher — he signed five 5-star prospects in the Aggies’ 2022 recruiting class — throwing daggers that suggested he knows where some ‘Bama skeletons are buried.
“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way,” said Fisher, who was Saban’s assistant at LSU for five years, including the 2003 national title season. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”
Gene's previous three columns:
Just the beginning: Welcome to NIL reality, where colleges knew chaos was part of deal
1 (p.m.) and done: Jaguars should focus on winning, not fret over lack of primetime TV exposure
That Jimbo jab was only a prelude to this roundhouse right, adding: “Go dig into how God did his deal. We build him up to be this czar of football. Go dig into his past, or anybody that’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out, what he does and how he does it. It’s despicable.”
On Thursday, Saban called an audible and apologized for singling out A&M, and the SEC predictably issued a public reprimand of both Saban and Fisher for acting like kids in the schoolyard with no filter.
Saban and Fisher can play nice from this point forward, but the tone for this rivalry has been set. For however long Saban chooses to coach, A&M becomes public enemy 1A, almost right there with Auburn.
Less than five months before ‘Bama hosts A&M in an Oct. 8 revenge game — Fisher was the first ex-Saban assistant to beat him last season after those coaches were 0-24 — you can bet this delicious story line will be front and center at SEC Media Days and for a lot of college football buildup to the 2022 season.
Sankey can be indignant about all this discord, but he knows deep down the attention it receives is PR gold. Let’s be honest: Saban and Fisher jawing at each other about who runs their program more inappropriately isn’t totally despicable. Not from an interest-building standpoint.
It’s actually the best hype the SEC could possibly ask for, even if Sankey would never admit it or it makes the upcoming league football coaches meeting in Destin a tad awkward.
Thumbs-up on Waugh hire
Among the positive things Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson was applauded for when he took the job was bringing aboard a staff that had far more NFL experience than predecessor Urban Meyer. His coordinators, lead assistant coaches of every position group and senior defensive assistant Bob Sutton have a combined 149 years working in the league.
So the same logic should apply with general manager Trent Baalke hiring Ethan Waugh as assistant GM. This shrewd hire goes beyond Waugh’s experience, where he served multiple roles during his 12 seasons working alongside Baalke and 16 total seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
The bigger point is Waugh elected to leave a stable front office in San Francisco, where the 49ers are closer to being a Super Bowl contender than the Jaguars, to team up again with Baalke midway through a rebuild.
It’s no secret the Jaguars wanted to add strength and another voice to the front office mix. Looking at Waugh’s resume, this move looks like a personnel upgrade and constructive input for Baalke.
Titans give AFC South defenses break
Looking at the Tennessee Titans trading away receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s hard to imagine this deal makes them better. Yes, it provides salary-cap relief, but also makes defending the Titans a little easier, though not to say Arkansas receiver and first-round draft pick Treylon Burks won’t help fill some of that void.
Still, my guess is Tennessee will ultimately feel more regret than relief over trading a receiver with more yards (2,995), touchdowns (24) and yards per catch (16.2) in three years than any Jaguars drafted receiver accumulated for their entire career in Jacksonville.
Setting new TE standard?
In his first five NFL seasons, newly acquired Jaguars tight end Evan Engram averaged 52 catches for 565 yards per year with the New York Giants. The only tight ends in Jaguars history to reach those totals were Pete Mitchell (1996), Kyle Brady (2000) and Marcedes Lewis (2010).
If Engram can stay healthy in a contract year, it’s not a stretch to think he could threaten Brady’s single-season record for catches (64) and yards (729 yards) by a tight end.
Another distinctive voice exits
Just six weeks after Gene Deckerhoff decided to retire as Florida State’s radio play-by-play voice after 43 years, Mick Hubert is hanging it up this weekend following 33 years in the same capacity with the Florida Gators.
Hubert, 68, and his famous “Oh, my!” calls set a UF record that may never be broken: the Gators winning six national titles in football, men’s basketball and baseball with him behind the mic. He’s the only college play-by-play announcer to hold that distinction in those sports.
It sure looked for a while that Hubert might break the UF announcer longevity mark set by Otis Boggs (1940-81), but he told me Friday he planned on bowing out for several months without telling anybody until informing athletic director Scott Stricklin on Monday.
"I always thought I'd go into my 80s like Larry Munson and Vin Scully," said Hubert. "I prayed about this for most of the year. This is the most exciting leap of faith I've ever taken. The Holy Spirit told me it's time to go. There's another world to live with my wife. It's time to go."
Hubert was working at WHIO radio and television in Dayton in 1989 when the station's weatherman, Bruce Asbury, learned of the UF vacancy in a trade magazine and encouraged his fellow sports anchor to apply. Hubert was selected among 150 applicants to succeed David Steele, now the Orlando Magic play-by-play announcer.
Hubert and his wife, Judi, are relocating to Sarasota. Good luck, Mick, in your next chapter.
Tweet of the Week
It’s hard not to chuckle at this social media barb from @RedditCFB: “If [former Florida State quarterback] Jameis Winston had been born a decade later, he could have simply signed an NIL deal with Publix for as many crab legs as he wanted.”
Allen misses prime opportunity
When the Milwaukee Bucks fell apart in Games 6 and 7 to lose the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics, it denied Providence High product and Bucks guard Grayson Allen the chance to become the first Jacksonville hoopster to reach an NBA conference final since Raines High’s Truck Robinson in 1979 for the Phoenix Suns (lost to Seattle Supersonics). Allen struggled in the series, hitting just 13 of 42 shots (5 of 24 from 3-point range) with per-game averages of 5.0 points in 26.4 minutes.
No slam dunk for Magic
Whatever celebration the Orlando Magic had for winning the NBA draft lottery and securing the No. 1 pick, you have to wonder if there’ll be any real payoff in the coming years because none of the potential selections looks anything close to a generational talent.
The top three contenders appear to be Gonzaga’s rail-thin, 7-foot center, Chet Holmgren, Duke big man Paolo Banchero and 6-foot-10 Auburn sharpshooter Jabari Smith, all with varying skillsets and at different developmental stages.
For the Magic, who have succeeded picking No. 1 with Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Penny Hardaway, this is a tough call. I’d take Smith and hold my breath.
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Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Frenette: Jumbo-Nick feud, Jaguars nuggets, Hubert retires, Jameis, more