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FILE - Alabama head coach Nick Saban leaves the field after their win against Ohio State in an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game in Miami Gardens, Fla., in this Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, file photo. Another college football season will start with everyone chasing the Tide. Alabama is No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 preseason college football poll released Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Two well-known leaders had strikingly similar approaches, and strikingly different results, about fighting COVID-19 over the weekend.

Each is a well-known name and face. Each reached the apex of their profession. And each was in the state of Alabama — one of the least vaccinated states in these sorely under-vaccinated, anything-but-United States.

The first was Nick Saban, the wildly successful University of Alabama football coach. When asked about a player who was trying to move up the depth chart after missing chunks of the preseason for failing to adhere to the team's "COVID protocols," Saban could not have been more direct.

"That's up to him. That's not up to me," Saban said Saturday of the player, via AL.com. "He knows what he's supposed to do . He's known what he's supposed to do. This is not a democracy. Everybody doesn't get to do what they want to do. Everybody doesn't get to do what they feel like doing. You got to buy in and do what you're supposed to do to be a part of the team."

Now consider Saban's approach and message with backlash against an individual who demands fealty from supporters.

At a Donald Trump rally in pro-Trump Cullman, Alabama, the former president was booed at his suggestion to supporters to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

"I recommend — take the vaccines. I did it, it's good," he said.

The crowd booed. Trump, reading the room, quickly switched gears and topics. Yes, he told the crowd to get the vaccine, but he didn't dwell on the topic.

Saban, conversely, has made it clear that handling COVID matters is every bit as important as weight room sessions and academic requirements to remain eligible.

The coach said his is not a democracy, and of course that makes running a national champion team different in theory from running a nation. But his continued success gives his approach to team building and preparation undeniable credence and validity.

At its core, COVID-19, to Saban, is an obstacle to be overcome and a dangerous distraction to successful football. Too many of our elected leaders view it as a political football.

No leadership approach, of course, is universal. And yes, playing SEC football is a privilege. Coaches in Saban's position can demand obedience and get it. It's their way or the highway, and it's for the team's success and the players' development.

Likewise, Trump's base of supporters is as loyal as ever; they have stuck with him through his unexpected rise from debate-stage sideshow to the Oval Office to his unofficial "GOP gatekeeper" position for those with 2022 election ambitions.

But unlike Saban, Trump's leadership was born of the moment. And when the moment moves on, so, too, does Trump. Now, those shifts can even elicit boos from the depths of the devoted in arguably his most devoted state.

Which makes me wonder, who was leading whom in Cullman?

And that makes me wonder if we might be better off with Saban in D.C. rather than the SEC.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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