TUSCALOOSA, AL. — University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and Athletic Director Greg Byrne have both tested positive for COVID-19, UA confirmed on Wednesday.
Saban made himself available to media for a short time over Zoom later in the afternoon, where he discussed topics ranging from his personal health to the Crimson Tide's approach to its upcoming game.
The news comes less than a week since the Tide's road trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss — a program that has also reported a recent outbreak of new COVID-19 cases. It also comes just days before the unbeaten No. 2 Crimson Tide take on the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in the most highly-anticipated game of the young and orthodox season thus far.
UA said in a statement that officials received word Wednesday afternoon of Saban and Byrne both testing positive for the virus, with both men immediately leaving the Mal Moore Athletic Complex to go self-isolate at home.
As of the publication of this story, the university says the new positive tests are limited to those two, with all individuals being notified who are thought to be high-risk contacts.
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"I found out earlier this afternoon that I had tested positive for COVID-19," Saban said in a statement. "I 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 test to confirm my diagnosis."
Saban, 68, said he found out his diagnosis at around 1 p.m., then informed the team at 2 p.m. on a Zoom call to let them know offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would oversee preparations around the university's athletic complex. Conversely, Saban plans to work from home ahead of Saturday's home game against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Byrne said a test he took Wednesday morning came back positive in the afternoon and he also returned home to self-isolate. No word as to Byrne's possible symptoms had been released as the publication of this story, but he did take to Twitter to notify the UA community.
"We've been diligent about mask wearing and social distancing from the start and want to continue to encourage you all to take necessary precautions to help stop the spread of this virus for yourself and those around you," he said in a statement.
Saban then held a media availability via Zoom Wednesday evening, where he said he feels fine and was able to watch the day's practice from home. He said he will conduct normal meetings remotely on Thursday and continue on his normal schedule.
No symptoms. He’s literally coaching practice from a Zoom call (I had permission to say this)
— Kristen Saban Setas (@KristenSabanS) October 14, 2020
Questions were asked, though, about the succession plan and if Sarkisian would hand over the reins to the Tide's offense if assuming temporary head-coaching duties.
"The autonomy part we haven’t really decided yet," Saban said. "But in light of the fact that any coach could test positive, we try to have a protocol in place in case we lose a coach ... Obviously, Sark has been a head coach before and I'm not sure exactly how this is going to play out when the game comes, whether I can have communication with people or not."
He did say in the event Sarkisian becomes his on-field stand-in for the Georgia game, that he had no intentions of forcing the coordinator to hand over offensive play calls to any other coach.
The 46-year-old Sarkisian previously held head coaching jobs at Southern California and Washington, earning a 46–35 career record.
"Those guys can make good game day decisions," he said.
Saban went on to mention Wednesday's practice, where a manager had their phone handy to take directions from the head coach, who watched on a live stream from home.
"I didn’t leave the country or anything," Saban said after mentioning the benefits of watching a practice from a wide aerial perspective. "I’m just down the street and we have this technology."
When asked about his concerns, Saban said he had none for his own personal health, but worried for his family and the impact his diagnosis could have on the mentality of his players ahead of Saturday's game.
"I personally think I did a really good job of trying to manage my personal space and that would be what I’ve tried to inform our players to do," he said. "I guess my message would be to adhere to the protocols and what people are informing us to do."
Saban then commented that he was impressed with what he saw in practice Wednesday, mentioning the team's focus, intensity and willingness to try to get things right as a unit heading into Saturday.
"Maybe it was a good thing I wasn’t there," Saban said with a laugh.
Uncertainty around the new cases comes at the same time other SEC games have been postponed due to outbreaks. No. 10 Florida and LSU were set to play Saturday in Gainesville, but that game has been moved to Dec. 12 due to a spike in cases for Gators football program. Saturday's Vanderbilt at Missouri game has also been tentatively postponed to the same date after the Commodores cited a lack of scholarship athletes in forgoing the date.
Kickoff for Georgia vs. Alabama is set for 7 p.m. local time.
This story has been updated with quotes from Nick Saban's media availability via Zoom Wednesday evening.