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Mark Edwards: Examining what it means that Saban won't coach Saturday's game

Nick Saban

Nick Saban's Alabama team will be off Saturday. Photo by Kent Gidley

Anyone remember the last time Alabama played a football game without Nick Saban on the sideline?

It happened Dec. 28, 2006, when defensive coordinator and interim head coach Joe Kines led the Crimson Tide in a 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. Alabama had fired Mike Shula about four weeks earlier.

Kines' one game in charge of Alabama football was probably more memorable for his halftime interview with the TV network, rather than the result of the game. Asking what he would tell his team, the Piedmont native won over folks with his unpolished, excited response: "We gotta stop that little inside trap!"

Asked about what he would do in the second half, Kines yelled, "Aww, we just gonna go play. We just gotta keep playin'."

Six days after Kines' one game in charge, then-Alabama athletics director Mal Moore brought Saban from Miami, where he had been coaching the NFL's Dolphins.

Now, in his 14th season on the job, Saban is set to miss Saturday's nationally televised showdown between No. 2-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Georgia. Saban was told Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19, although he told reporters later in the day that he has no symptoms.

"I feel fine. I felt fine. I was very surprised by this," said Saban, who will turn 69 on Oct. 31.

The school released another statement Thursday saying that Saban is still asymptomatic.

The Saban news is just another hit as COVID-19 conducts an offensive through the Southeastern Conference.

Two games scheduled for Saturday have been postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests. Florida's game against LSU and Vanderbilt's game against Missouri have been postponed, as both Florida and Vanderbilt have suffered a spike in positive COVID-19 tests. Both games are rescheduled for Dec. 12. That date was left open to account for potential postponements.

On the original schedule, the regular season ended Dec. 5, with the SEC Championship Game set for Dec. 19.

It's hard to imagine that there won't be more postponements, and the SEC hasn't addressed what will happen down the road if Florida, LSU, Missouri or Vanderbilt need to have a second game postponed. What will happen if it's a game that's needed to determine who will play in the SEC title game?

So, in light of Saban's news, what will happen at Alabama? Could the Tide's game against Georgia be postponed?

For now, the school is saying Saban and Byrne are the only ones this week who have tested positive. Alabama basketball coach Nate Oates told the Tuscaloosa News on Thursday that he tested positive in July.

Current NCAA rules say Saban can't coach Alabama on Saturday. Under the current regulations, he can communicate with his coaches and team until 90 minutes before kickoff. After that, he can't speak with his staff in the press box or team on the sideline until after the game.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is managing operations at the office and is set to be in charge Saturday during that time period when Saban isn't allowed to communicate. Sarkisian was head coach at Washington (2009-13) and Southern California (2014-15). He'll still call plays, and defensive coordinator Pete Golding will manage the defense, which may not be a comfort to any Alabama fan after the Tide allowed six touchdowns and a pair of field goals in last week's win over Ole Miss.

Saban spoke for 10 minutes with about 100 reporters Wednesday evening by video conference. For all of Saban's quirks, he seems to care genuinely about the staffers and players in the program, and for nearly all the 10 minutes, he seemed as if he was trying to calm any concerns those people might have.

About being at home instead of the office: "I didn't leave the country. I'm just right down the street. We've got the technology, so it's really unique. I don't have experience at this, but we're going to do the best we can to keep everything as normal as possible."

About missing the Georgia game: "I haven't blocked anybody, tackled anybody, caught any passes, thrown any passes in a game for a long, long time. So, it's still going to be up to the players and how they execute. It's up to us to get them in position to do that."

About what he would tell people after learning of his own positive test result: "My message would be to adhere to protocols of what people are informing us to do. Wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance — all those things are important. I always tell our players to assume that everyone you come in contact with might be infected and you might be infected and not know it and actually bring harm to them."

About that day's practice, which he watched by video: "I can tell you, we've had a lot worse practices when I'm there, so maybe it was a good thing that I wasn't there.”

Saban did touch on the problem caused by trying to play a sport when you can't duplicate the NBA model of having everyone confined to one space until the end of the season. Saban acknowledged it was a risk to have his team travel to Oxford, Miss., to play the University of Mississippi last week.

"Look, I basically feel like when we're in our own personal bubble here I think everybody is in a much safer place," he said. "I think as soon as you travel, you get exposed to a lot more things and a lot more people."

As for his own situation, Saban said he isn't concerned "much" about his own health in regards to COVID-19, although "you never know."

Then he opened up and showed what truly concerns him.

"I have a big concern for my own personal family. Those are about the only people I've been around other than the coaches and the players. I'm pretty isolated in what I do. I'm hopeful none of them have an issue," said Saban, whose second grandchild was born in April

There's another concern, although Saban didn't state it, and it may not even be on his mind at the moment: COVID-19's run through the SEC and college football may just be getting started.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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