For more than 50 years now, a Monday afternoon in late March has meant one thing for Nick Saban: football practice. Even in his NFL years, when this particular time period meant evaluating draft prospects, his time was spent on a field somewhere, as often as not.
On this particular Monday, Saban didn’t have a single player in sight. All athletic-related activities have been put on hold by the Southeastern Conference, all students sent home by the University of Alabama, where Saban’s 14th season as head coach has started like no other.
One thing remains constant. Saban looks forward, relentlessly. In a brief, socially-distanced telephone conversation, he spent no time complaining, “it’s affecting everyone else the same way,” he said — or reminiscing about what other seasons were like. He has a plan for 2020, based on the limited and changing information at his disposal and is focused on working that plan, not griping about what he might like to do but can’t.
“Right now, we’re just trying to do as much as we can,” Saban said. “One positive was that at least when everything was called off, our players were here so we could put them on an academic program and provide them with a workout program. Those are still the priorities — academics, conditioning and a little bit of football.
“Starting this week, the SEC is allowing us to start some football work.”
To be specific, SEC schools will be allowed to offer film review and instruction to their players via video conferencing for two hours per week, a ruling that covers all sports.
Presumably, that means football assistant coaches at various positions will teach as well as they can. As far as the specifics, or how much involvement the head coach will have, that prompted a Classic Saban response.
“I’m not that interested in telling every other team exactly what we’re doing,” Saban said.
“I’d just say we’re improvising the best we can. But our top priorities are still our players’ safety and our players’ education.”
There is also time for recruiting by video conferencing, which Saban would be doing even if spring practice was proceeding normally.
Saban said that he would not speculate on what might happen in the future for recruits or for anyone else.
“Whatever decisions are made (by UA and the SEC) in their timetable, that’s what we will do,” Saban said.
The Alabama coach has made two public services announcements regarding the importance of social distancing and proper sanitation like one speaking for Alabama football and the other on behalf of his Nick’s Kids charities. His PSA on the Alabama Football Twitter account has received over 790,000 views.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt