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Fisher's not sorry for poking SEC bear

by Bob Holt | August 1, 2021 at 2:54 a.m.

HOOVER, Ala. -- Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher, given a chance at SEC Media Days to retract or at least soften his statement several weeks earlier that he would beat Nick Saban's, ah, backside, didn't back down.

Fisher instead smiled when asked whether he had any regrets about his response when he spoke at the Houston Touchdown Club on May 5.

At the meeting, Fisher was asked whether it would take Nick Saban, 69, retiring as Alabama's coach for his Aggies to beat the Crimson Tide.

"We're going to beat his [butt] while he's there," Fisher said. "Don't worry."

And now that what Fisher said has gotten plenty of attention, is he worried he went too far in stating he'll beat Saban?

"I don't have any regrets," Fisher said about beating Saban. "That's what we're here for, isn't it? Isn't that why everybody's here?

"That's what makes this league this league. That's what we expect to do at Texas A&M."

Texas A&M's only victory over Alabama since joining the SEC was in 2012 -- the Aggies' first season in the conference -- when quarterback Johnny Manziel led them to a 29-24 victory at Bryant Denny Stadium. Manziel went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Fisher is among Saban's former assistant coaches who are 0-23 against him as head coaches. Saban's Alabama teams are 4-0 against Fisher's teams: 1-0 when he was at Florida State and 3-0 at Texas A&M.

Alabama handed the Aggies their only loss last season, but it was 52-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"Nick and I are friends," said Fisher, who was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU. "We've known each other a long time. We coached together. We're from the same world, if that makes any sense. I have the utmost respect for what he's done and what he's accomplished."

Saban has won seven national championships with one at LSU and six at Alabama, including last season when the Tide beat Notre Dame 31-14 and Ohio State 52-24 in the College Football Playoff to finish 13-0.

"He's the standard, and the standard is what you have to play to," Fisher said. "Just like the standard at Florida State was to take over the ACC and go win a national championship."

Fisher led Florida State to the 2013 national championship when the Seminoles beat Auburn 34-31. Texas A&M gave him a 10-year, $75 million contract to win a national title with the Aggies.

"We look forward to playing [Saban and Alabama]," Fisher said. "Understand me saying we're going to beat them doesn't beat them.

"We have to develop the skills, the right practice habits, coach the heck out of the players and let them play, and be able to play those games and understand how to play those games."

Fisher echoed Saban in saying Texas A&M has to work to play at the same high standard regardless of the opponent.

"Kent State is Alabama. Colorado is Alabama. New Mexico is Alabama," said Fisher, rattling off the Aggies' first three opponents this season. "We have to play to that standard each and every week, so when we play [Alabama], it's like playing another game."

Texas A&M's players at SEC Media Days applauded their coach's statement about beating Saban.

"My reaction is just that Jimbo has the utmost confidence in us, and he knows what we can do, and we know how we're going to do it," junior defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal said. "His comment, I just loved it because it shows how much he believes in us. Having a coach like that to stand behind you, it matters a lot."

Said junior offensive tackle Kenyon Green: "Our coach is confident in our team, and I'm confident, too."

The Aggies nearly made the playoffs last season, but they were fifth in the final poll. They settled for a 41-27 victory over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl to finish 9-1 with a No. 4 national ranking in The Associated Press poll.

Texas A&M returns six starters on offense and must find a new starting quarterback after Kellen Mond -- a third-round NFL Draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings -- held the position the previous three seasons and most of his freshman year.

The top candidates to replace Mond are redshirt freshman Haynes King, who played in two games last season and completed 2 of 4 passes for 59 yards, and sophomore Zach Calzada, who didn't play last season but in 2019 played in three games and completed 12 of 24 passes for 133 yards with 2 touchdowns.

"Zach is a very talented young man, can throw the football very well, but everybody gets caught up in his arm," Fisher said. "Zach is a really good athlete and can run around. I think Zach is an NFL talent.

"I think Haynes King is an NFL talent. Haynes can really throw the football. He's smart, he's competitive, he can run.

"Those guys have great minds. I'm telling you, I was extremely pleased with both of those guys in spring ball. They have great knowledge of what we're doing."

Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of playmakers in running back Isaiah Spiller (1,036 yards, 193 receiving yards last season), slot receiver Ainias Smith (564 receiving yards, 293 rushing yards) and tight end Jalen Wydermyer (46 receptions for 506 yards).

Green is the only returning starter on the offensive line, and he's moving from guard to left tackle, but Fisher said the group is loaded with talent.

"We lost a lot of the experience, but the guys we have are very, very talented," Fisher said. "I mean, very talented. They'll all be draft picks, in my opinion, if Lord willing they stay healthy and keep developing the way they can. I'm very excited about that.

"The continuity to get five guys to play as one, that's the challenge in how quickly they can adapt to that. But they had a great spring, summer's been going well, and that's one of the things I'm most excited to watch, because I know what their ability is."

The Aggies return nine starters on defense.

"The limit for this defense is the sky," Leal said. "Beyond the sky, honestly."

Texas A&M plays Alabama at Kyle Field on Oct. 9.

"Hopefully they raise that bar, they make us a better team knowing we have to play well to play with them and come out victorious on them," Fisher said. "That's our ultimate goal and what we want to do.

"We feel confident in ourselves. Me sitting here saying that doesn't mean it. We want to beat them. They want to beat us. Who can do the most work and become the best football team until then is what's going to make the difference."

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Thirteenth in a series previewing SEC football in 2021.

Print Headline: Fisher's not sorry for poking SEC bear

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