The SEC is currently dealing with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks this week. Alabama is one of the teams that has been hit the hardest. Not from a numbers standpoint, but the importance of who tested positive.
With the Georgia game looming, it was announced on Wednesday that coach Nick Saban and athletic director Greg Byrne had both tested positive for the coronavirus. Saban’s uncertain status is a huge blow to the Crimson Tide.
When asked about how he is dealing with the virus, Saban said:
“I’m completely asymptomatic. Feel fine. Our medical officials have told me as long as I remain asymptomatic, I will have a daily PCR testing per SEC protocol to confirm the initial positive. I found this out at about one o’clock today. I came home and informed our team by Zoom.”
Saban feels fine, but he won’t be able to be a part of football activities — at least not in person — for the foreseeable future. So, what does that mean for an Alabama team that’s trying to prepare for the No. 3 team in the country?
Well, there was one positive bit of information from Saban. When he was asked if there has been a spike among players following his positive tests, his answer was a swift and simple:
“We haven’t had any indications of that at all with any players.”
That is a good sign — at least for now. Programs such as Florida and Ole Miss are dealing with player outbreaks, which would likely be much more difficult to manage with all the direct contact interactions. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be a player outbreak at Alabama at some point, but it’s good news for now.
Saban was then asked about possible succession plans in place for a situation like this one and the degree of autonomy Steve Sarkisian will have as interim coach during Saban’s absence.
“Well, the autonomy part we haven’t really decided yet,” Saban said. “But in light of the fact that any coach could test positive, we tried to have a protocol in place for if we lost a coach, especially one in a leadership position, who would step in for them. Obviously, Sark has been a head coach before.”
It seemed as though Saban was reluctant to answer the autonomy question because he’s still doesn’t know if he’ll have the ability to communicate and run things from a distance come Saturday. That was his next point.
“I’m not sure exactly how this is going to going to play out in terms of when the game comes,” Saban replied. “You know, whether I can have communication with people or not. So, we’ll have to research and sort of figure that one out.”
A major college football coach, especially the most recognizable name in the sport, testing positive is new territory. We don’t know what it’s going to mean moving forward.
Will he be unavailable Saturday? Will he be able to watch the game from a separate location and help manage in his normal role? Those are some of the questions the Alabama coach is going to be asking in the coming days.
If Saban is not able to part of the equation on Saturday, it could spell bad news for the Crimson Tide. Sarkisian has head coaching experience, but to throw him into a new role days before the game would not be a good situation. He has enough to worry about creating a plan for Georgia’s top-ranked defense.
But as of right now, Saban is still a part of the game-planning process. He’s adjusted well to watching practice through a wide-angle view on camera from a separate location. It has actually allowed him to continue to proceed as he normally would.
“I can do absolutely everything here that I do,” Saban said from his home office. “I’ll have the same exact routine. I watched practice today. I had a manager handle the phone. If I wanted a play repeated, I said repeat that play, so-and-so messed up.
So, I didn’t leave the country or anything. I’m just right down the street and we have this technology, so it’s really unique.”
It’s good to keep things as normal as possible during this unique time, and it sounds like that’s exactly what Saban is doing. He also hinted at a possible means of contracting the virus.
“When we’re in our own personal bubble here, I think everybody is in a much safer place,” Saban replied. “But I think as soon as you travel, you get exposed to a lot more things and a lot more people.”
Alabama was on the road in Oxford, Miss. this past weekend taking on Ole Miss. Interestingly enough, the Rebels were one of those teams that has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.
How Saban contracted the virus might not be relevant at this point, at least not from the standpoint of determining where the team goes from here. Not having its leader out there against a formidable Georgia team is going to be a challenge for Alabama.
It will be especially difficult for Pete Golding and a defense that has struggled through the first three weeks of the season, including giving up over 600 yards of offense and 48 points to Ole Miss this past weekend.
Losing Nick Saban will hurt the Crimson Tide. At this point, it’s a matter of determining how much.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.