Alabama's Nick Saban may be able to coach against Georgia after all

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Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts before the game against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9, 2019 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America/TNS

ATHENS, Ga. — Don’t count out Nick Saban just yet.

Alabama’s legendary football coach posted a negative test for COVID-19 on Thursday, the university confirmed Friday, and the school continues to make an concerted effort to overturn the SEC’s initial determination that Saban would be unable to coach his team for Saturday’s night game against No. 3 Georgia.

The SEC has confirmed that three consecutive negative tests in the wake of a positive test, which Saban registered Wednesday, would constitute a “false positive” and allow the Crimson Tide’s 68-year-old coach to be on the sidelines at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.

No. 2 Alabama (3-0) plays host to No. 3 Georgia (3-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday (CBS).

Alabama updated Saban’s medical situation with an afternoon news release, as it has done each day since Wednesday.

“Coach Saban was evaluated again today by Dr. (Jimmy) Robinson,” the statement said. “He continues to be asymptomatic and without fever. We are continuing to follow the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol for testing asymptomatic positives. A PCR test was repeated Thursday by the SEC appointed lab and was negative. For clarification, the initial positive result came from an outside lab we’ve used to supplement the SEC mandated testing.

“He will continue to remain in isolation and receive daily PCR tests. Should he have three negative PCR tests through the SEC appointed lab, each 24 hours apart, the initial test would be considered a false positive pursuant to SEC protocols and he would be allowed to return.”

That means that Saban needs negative results to come back from the test he underwent Friday and another one Saturday in order to coach his team. Otherwise, he will have to watch the game from home with his wife, Terry, as was the plan before these latest developments.

In case Saban can’t coach the team Saturday, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been appointed interim head coach. Saban has continued to prepare the Crimson Tide for Saturday night’s matchup against Georgia and coach Kirby Smart, his former defensive coordinator.

Regardless of whether Saban gets cleared, Alabama made the determination that any victory or defeat would be credited to Saban. Saban has a 21-0 record against his former assistant coaches, which includes a 2-0 mark against Smart at Georgia.

Sports communications director Josh Maxson made the call.

“Believe me, I was NOT asking my head coach that question,” Maxson said. “It’ll be on Coach, whatever happens; there’s no way he would want it anywhere else. So, yes, it will count for him. He’s been preparing his team for the game all week.”

Maxson also said he’s not aware of any virus outbreaks on the team, so it looks like the game will go off as planned, with or without Saban.

Tuscaloosa and the state of Alabama have been “going crazy” over Saban’s status for the game. The SEC ruled that if Saban — or any SEC coach — remained quarantined because of coronavirus exposure, he could not be at the stadium or school facilities. So the plan has been for him to remain at home.

That in itself is creating all kinds of unknowns for Alabama, which also has ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town conducting its show from campus.

If Saban has to stay home, Maxson said, “I don’t know who’s going to do the pregame interview on the radio, and I don’t know who’s going to do the postgame interview. I don’t know if Coach is going to do a presser via Zoom. I don’t know any of that right now. I’ve still got to get those worked out. But right now he’s still prepping his team to play, so I’m not going to worry about it.”

The Bulldogs have played in four games in which both teams were ranked in the top three of The Associated Press poll or the College Football Playoff standings. They are scheduled for their fifth such game Saturday night when the No. 3 Bulldogs face No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Saturday’s matchup will be the first time since 1942 that Georgia has played a regular-season game involving two teams in the top three.

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