COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Jimbo Fisher feels the best he has about the trajectory of Texas A&M's football program, and he's ready for the story to become what the Aggies do on the field and not his offseason spat with former boss Nick Saban.
"We're talented and have established that we can start stacking a huge number of the right guys in our program," Fisher told ESPN on Friday. "We've still got great challenges this year. We gotta go prove it. Hey, it's time to shut up and play, just go play. Don't worry about what people say. Don't worry about what happened this summer between me and Nick.
"We feel really good about where we're going."
The Aggies, ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, were 8-4 a year ago after just missing the College Football Playoff during the 2020 COVID-19 season. Despite an up-and-down season a year ago, Fisher became the first of Saban's former assistants to beat him when Texas A&M upset No. 1 Alabama 41-38 at Kyle Field. But the real fireworks came this offseason after Texas A&M reeled in the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class, which included eight of ESPN's top 30 prospects nationally.
Saban, speaking at a business leader function in Birmingham in May, said Texas A&M "bought every player" in its 2022 signing class. Fisher called a news conference the next day and issued a fiery rebuttal. He called Saban's comments "despicable" and referred to him as a "narcissist." He also suggested that reporters should dig into Saban's recruiting practices. Saban later apologized for singling out anybody, but said his issue was any school that was using NIL as a recruiting inducement.
During a sitdown with ESPN on Friday, Fisher discussed several things involving his spat with Saban. Fisher emphasized that he was no longer mad about it and that he had never previously had a problem with Saban, whom Fisher worked for as an offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000 to 2004.
"What people don't realize is that it's not like we ever talked a lot," Fisher said. "Since I've been here, we've probably talked on the phone five different times. He might call me about something or need a favor, which is still fine. I don't have a problem with that, and I would still help if that was the case."
But with the rivalries and recruiting battles being so intense in the SEC, Fisher joked that none of the coaches are what you would call phone pals, regardless of how much time they spent together at previous stops.
"Nick and I ain't got time to call each other," Fisher said. "It doesn't have anything to do with like or dislike. I mean, what am I going to say if I call him -- 'Our recruiting is going well. How is yours going?' Hell, we're recruiting the same damn guys."
As much as anything, Fisher said what set him off was Saban's usage of the word "bought," and he also took offense to any suggestion that Texas A&M finished with such a talented class only because it was circumventing NIL rules.
"All of a sudden it's bad because we got a No. 1 class after going 8-4?" Fisher said. "Look around. When I was at LSU in 2001 [with Saban], we got the No. 1 class and were 8-4 the year before. It's happened at other places. Alabama had a great class after they went 7-6 in Nick's first year. Why is that any different than us? So when somebody fires at you and it's true, it's one thing. If it ain't true, it's different. If I know I'm right -- and I learned this from my mother and my father -- then stand your ground.
"That's what is wrong with the world today. We compromise too much."
Fisher reiterated that he took Saban's comments as a personal insult to the Texas A&M program, his players and their families, particularly with the use of the word "bought."
"We know what it meant," Fisher said. "It is what it is and you move on. I don't have any hard feelings, but that's what triggered me because everybody in this business knows what that means."
Fisher said he and Saban did talk briefly at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, but haven't talked since. As to whether they will sit down and talk more in depth in the future, Fisher said, "I don't know. Right now, we're probably too busy doing what we do."
Saban called Fisher personally to apologize after the initial comments, and Fisher said at the time that he didn't answer the call and added, "We're done."
But asked Friday if their relationship could survive, Fisher said, "I don't know. We'll see. He said his thing, and I said, 'OK,' and we're past that and that's the last time we talked [at the meetings]. I don't ever say never to nothing in this business. You never know about relationships, but we're also never around each other except in a business setting."
They will be back together, albeit on opposing sidelines, when Texas A&M visits Alabama on Oct. 8 in what will be the most anticipated game of the year in college football.
"It's not going to be personal when we play Alabama," Fisher said. "It's about the players and the team. It's never personal to me, whether it's Nick Saban or my brother or my best friend on the other side. I'm going to compete the same way."
When asked if he regretted anything he said during his emotionally charged news conference in May, Fisher said, "Hey, you say what you say. I go back to what I said earlier, and it's the way I was raised. When somebody says something that's not true, you stand your ground. The consequences are the consequences."
"Nick and I ain't got time to call each other. It doesn't have anything to do with like or dislike. I mean, what am I going to say if I call him -- 'Our recruiting is going well. How is yours going?' Hell, we're recruiting the same damn guys." Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher
Fisher said he heard from several people in and around college football, particularly football coaches, after he took Saban to task in May.
"Yep, heard from a lot of people, but not going to say what all they told me," Fisher said.
Several of his players also came to him and thanked him for having the program's back.
"That's what type of coach he is," Texas A&M junior running back Devon Achane told ESPN on Friday. "He's always going to defend you, always going to be there for you 100%, and we know that as players. I wasn't shocked at anything he said because I know he's always going to stand up for us, and as players, the least we can do is go that much harder for him. There's a bond on this team, and a lot of it goes back to Coach."
The win over Alabama last season was a factor in Texas A&M recruiting so well, Fisher said, but he thinks an even bigger one was finishing 9-1 in 2020 while playing an all-SEC schedule in the regular season and just missing the College Football Playoff. Fisher still thinks that team was the second best team in the country that season.
"Beating Alabama, a really good Alabama team, shows what we're capable of," Fisher said. "It sends a message, but at the same time, you can't just go beat Bama and not finish out the regular season. That's something we still have to learn to do, deal with success, deal with failures and go on. But it does show that we're talented enough to stand in there and win those games."
And the first part is always winning key recruiting battles.
"We're right exactly where we knew we'd probably be right now," Fisher said. "What I mean by that is we had to make some people understand we could win a championship here. I'd won one [at Florida State], but people do see that now. Players in the state, the first year or two, didn't know. Now guys want to come here. They don't want to leave the state."
Right away, this freshman class has made an impact on the way the Aggies have practiced this preseason.
"It's eliminated complacency, because competition eliminates complacency, right?" Fisher said. "We're as deep as we've been at all positions, and you better not take a day off because you'll lose your job."
Fisher, entering his fifth season at Texas A&M, has been atop LSU's head-coaching wish list a couple of times in recent years. He again received overtures this past offseason after Ed Orgeron's ouster. Former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wound up getting the job.
Fisher smiled when asked how close he was to going to LSU this time.
"Like I told everybody, I love being here," said Fisher, who's been overwhelmed by the financial support at Texas A&M. "I was happy being here, and I was going to stay."
The Aggies are spending $160 million to renovate their football facilities, and just in the last several months, they've received checks from donors of $25 million, $15 million, $7.5 million and $2 million earmarked for football. Included in the new renovations will be a 160-yard indoor practice facility, two giant virtual walk-through rooms with LED screens stretching the length of the room and an MRI machine at Kyle Field.
"We've got everything here we need," Fisher said. "I like what I'm doing, and we've got some things we've got to get done here and I think we can get 'em done.