If quarantined, Alabama’s Nick Saban won’t be allowed to coach vs. Georgia

ATHENS -- Nick Saban can’t coach.

Those are four words you almost never see together. But, in this case, they apply specifically to Saturday’s game between Saban’s No. 2-ranked Alabama team and No. 3 Georgia.

The SEC office in Birmingham confirmed Thursday that Saban, who is currently in quarantine because of a positive COVID-19 test, cannot be involved in any way with coaching the Crimson Tide during the game.

Saban told reporters after his positive test came in Wednesday that Alabama was checking to see how much involvement he could have in the game remotely. He said he was actively coaching via Zoom technology Wednesday and planned to do that the rest of the week.

But as far as Saturday’s night’s 8 p.m. game goes, a Sept. 23 clarification memo provided to all NCAA institutions by Steve Shaw, the national coordinator of football officials, makes it clear that no quarantined coach can have any involvement whatsoever once a competition is set to be conducted on-site. That includes 90 minutes before kickoff to the final whistle and all time stoppages in between.

Shaw determined that NCAA Rule 1-4-11 regarding “prohibited field equipment” expressly forbids remote coaching. Here’s what he told coaches in his Sept. 23 memo:

"Rule 1-4-11-b is very specific and allows only voice communications between the press box and the team area, therefore in (a) the coach could not call into the press box or the sideline for anything related to coaching purposes.

Rule 1-4-11-a would prohibit the use of technology including computers to be used for coaching purposes and this would include all virtual types of communication back to a team during the game, consequently in (b) any virtual session with the team would not be allowed. This prohibition would begin at 90 minutes before the scheduled kickoff when the officiating crew assumes jurisdiction of the game and would include the time between periods until the end of the game when the Referee declares the score final."

Saban tabbed offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to handle Alabama’s head coaching duties in his absence. So, the big question now is whether any victory or defeat will be credited to Saban or Sarkisian.

There is no answer to that question currently. The NCAA leaves such matters to the respective schools and, as of late Thursday morning, Alabama has not made a determination.

“That’s pretty far down on the list of things we’re dealing with right now,” said Alex Thompson of Alabama sports communications. “That’s something we’ll discuss way down the line. We haven’t really thought about that yet. It might be an hour before kickoff.”

At issue is Saban’s record against former assistant coaches. It stands at 21-0. Georgia’s Kirby Smart is 0-2 against him.

“I mean, what’s everybody’s record against coach Saban?” Smart said this week. “… I don’t think anybody in the last 10 years has a really good record against him. It is not something I try to focus on. I focus on what’s going to allow us to play good.”

So is Saban. He is continuing to coach the Tide remotely. He said he monitors practice via Zoom and has a graduate assistant on the other end dedicated to relaying any messages he has. Likewise, he talks to the team as a group via Zoom after practice and in meetings.

Meanwhile, Alabama said Saban is undergoing subsequent testing to determine whether this could have been a “false positive” and the Tide hasn’t closed the door on him still being able to coach Saturday.

For what it’s worth, Florida State decided to credit its season-opening loss to Miami to coach Mike Norvell, even though he was in quarantine at the time.

“We made that determination early on in case he missed more games and we had somebody different coach,” said Steven McCartney of FSU sports communications. “We didn’t want different people with records. So whatever happened, coach Norvell was going to be saddled with it.”

Smart downplayed what Saban’s absence might mean for the Crimson Tide.

“Once it gets to game time, there’s not a lot you can control outside of the ‘go-for-its’ and things like that,” Smart said on his Thursday night call-in show. “The players have to make the plays.”