But word that Saban, who has been an active public proponent of wearing masks and enforcing social distancing, tested positive may have far greater reverberations on the sport and the perceptions of playing it during the pandemic, in part because of the renown he has cultivated during his 14 seasons at Alabama.
During his tenure at the university — whose fans spent the years before he arrived in 2007 longing for the dominant teams they had known under Bear Bryant, who died in 1983 — Saban has won five national championships.
Now, ahead of a game that will go far to determine whether Alabama reaches another College Football Playoff, Saban will be working from home. Steve Sarkisian, the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and a former college head coach, will take on a greater role in preparations for the game against Georgia.
Saban swiftly pivoted to coaching practice by Zoom, and one of Alabama’s managers was tasked with holding a phone while Alabama worked out on Wednesday.
“If I wanted a play repeated, I said ‘I want that play repeated, so and so messed up,’” Saban said, wryly noting later that Alabama had run “a lot worse practices when I’m there.”
The pandemic has disrupted college football repeatedly as the sport plowed ahead this fall. So far, 29 games in the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football’s premier tier, have been postponed or rescheduled for virus-related reasons. A handful of head coaches, including Kevin Sumlin of Arizona and Mike Norvell of Florida State, have tested positive, as have hundreds of players and staff members nationwide.
The SEC’s commissioner, Greg Sankey, warned coaches and athletic directors in recent weeks to follow virus protocols fervently or risk derailing the season, which some critics have said should not be happening at all. Sankey wrote in a memo last week that teams would “need to be fully attentive every day to reach the objective of a healthy and complete season.”