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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Nick Saban, Out With Virus, Merely Wants to ‘Do Whatever the Public’s Seem to Be Wanting’

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COLLIERVILLE, Ala. — At the end of this week’s appearance, when reporters and spectators finished musing about Alabama coach Nick Saban’s plans for next season, he would be facing the question of his diagnosis. There was nothing to do but put on a face of health.

After the news that Mr. Saban had tested positive for the virus had been confirmed Thursday, a member of the clinic’s staff headed into the interview room to tell the coach his good fortune.

In a brief aside, Mr. Saban told the reporters that he had come down with the virus once before.

Mr. Saban would inform his team and his staff that he did not have the virus, and said he would be on coach’s staff for the next few games. After all, he pointed out to one reporter, a person could catch a virus.

But Mr. Saban’s spirits never wavered, even if he spent much of his approach to the media session with a warm-up stretching move in his deep-purple bow tie and shorts and a goatee.

“You know we got our stats on the board. Can you guys all do the same? Can you do the burn or something?” Mr. Saban asked at one point.

One reporter, a frumpy woman with shortish hair and a gray skirt, got laughs from the reporters in the room when she offered a “black robe” to his help.

When he finished his team’s first public comments after being declared out, Mr. Saban cracked that he was glad to have “competed in such a rowdy environment.”

Mr. Saban would greet anyone who crossed his path as he entered a state building that looks like something from The Truman Show.

“Nick,” shouted an employee, to which Mr. Saban responded, “My name is Nick Saban.”

And he gestured.

“Are you Nick Saban?”

Mr. Saban made a motion toward his head. He made a head-banging one, then repeated it. And all the reporters who fit his facial code noticed.

A person walking near the coach stopped for a moment, then continued on his way.

“Nick Saban is doing everything in the world right now, and he looks fine,” one man said to his wife.

Before the interview resumed, Mr. Saban left the hallway to mingle with a group of young autograph-seekers. One boy lifted a visor covering his face, put it on his head and said, “Yeah, we’re practicing the common virus, right?”

Mr. Saban smiled and said something about “a third of the field” showing symptoms of the virus.

“We’re going to practice tomorrow and we’re going to go for the cure,” he said.

An Alabama spokesman was quick to characterize the coach’s experience, telling the Times that Mr. Saban had “had the bug and he just hadn’t been quite 100 percent sure” since Thursday.

But the appearance seemed more like a playful metaphor than a crisis.

Late Friday, after the game, Mr. Saban was taken off the field to finish his final address to the reporters, which was set for 3:30 p.m. EST.

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