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Alabama football coach Nick Saban tests positive for coronavirus

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he was not exhibiting symptoms related to covid-19. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
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The University of Alabama announced Wednesday that football coach Nick Saban tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Saban, 68, said that he would work from home while offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian oversees team operations at the Crimson Tide’s facility.

Alabama’s Athletic Director, Greg Byrne, was also announced to have tested positive. The school said that Byrne and Saban accounted for the only positive tests and added, “All individuals who are considered high risk contacts have been notified and will follow quarantine guidelines.”

Saban said in a statement that after learning earlier on Wednesday of his positive test, he “immediately left work and isolated at home."

“At this time, I do not have any symptoms relative to COVID, and I have taken another PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test to confirm my diagnosis,” said the coach, who has led the Crimson Tide to five national championships in his 13-plus seasons at Alabama after previously winning one at LSU.

Saban said he used a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon to inform his players of his condition and of the role Sarkisian will play in his absence. His daughter subsequently said on Twitter that Saban was not exhibiting any symptoms while “literally coaching practice from a Zoom call.”

Alabama (3-0), ranked second by the Associated Press, is set to host third-ranked Georgia (3-0) in a highly anticipated matchup on Saturday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the SEC announced that a game scheduled for Saturday between No. 10 Florida and defending national champion LSU was postponed because of positive coronavirus tests and subsequent quarantining within the Gators’ program. Florida suspended football activities on Tuesday, citing “an abundance of caution.” The game tentatively has been rescheduled for Dec. 12.

A college football team’s home-field advantage isn’t worth a public health crisis

Another SEC game, Missouri-Vanderbilt, was postponed on Monday and tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12 after an outbreak in Vanderbilt’s program. “We’re playing football in a pandemic,” Commodores Coach Derek Mason said Saturday, after a lopsided loss to South Carolina in which Vanderbilt had far fewer scholarship players available than normal.

In all, 29 games at the Football Bowl Subdivision level have been postponed or canceled thus far since August.

“We’ve been diligent about mask-wearing and social distancing from the start,” Byrne said in a statement Wednesday, “and want to continue to encourage you all to take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of this virus for yourself and those around you.”

In May, Saban was featured in a public service announcement aimed at encouraging Alabama residents to wear masks. Amid reports of crowding and other forms of unsafe behavior as students began returning to Tuscaloosa in August, Byrne took to social media to exclaim, “Who wants college sports this fall?? … We’ve got to do better than this for each other and our campus community. Please wear your masks!”

Other college football coaches who have been announced as testing positive for the coronavirus include Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, Toledo’s Jason Candle, Kansas’s Les Miles, Florida State’s Mike Norvell and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin.

Considered by many as the greatest coach in college football history, Saban’s six national championships are equaled only by former Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. His 251 wins, including stops at Toledo and Michigan State, are eighth all-time among Division I coaches and his .793 winning percentage is ninth all-time. Saban was also the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2005 to 2006 and the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1994.

Sarkisian previously served as head coach at the University of Washington and at USC, posting a combined record of 46-35 from 2009 through 2015. He was first hired as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2016, then held that position with the Atlanta Falcons for two seasons before returning to Tuscaloosa last year.

“I feel fine, so I’m not really concerned that much about my health, but you never know,” Saban, whose team played at Mississippi last weekend, told reporters Wednesday (via ESPN). “Look, I basically feel like when we’re in our own personal bubble here, everybody is in a much safer place. I think as soon as you travel you get exposed to a lot more things and a lot more people.”