Illinois head coach Bret Bielema tests positive for COVID-19

Sports

CHAMPAIGN – As they hit the road for the final time in the 2021 regular season, Illinois will do so without their first-year head coach.

On Tuesday morning, head coach Bret Bielema announced that he tested positive for COVID-19, doing so after receiving his booster shot last week. He will not be available to coach the Illini when they travel to face 20th-ranked Iowa on the road on Saturday at 1 PM.

Wide receivers coach George McDonald will serve as head coach in Bielema’s absence.

“After developing mild symptoms yesterday, I was tested and unfortunately late Monday night tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19. I’m disappointed that I will not be with our team this week when we travel to Iowa, but I’m grateful that I’m vaccinated and received the booster shot last week. Going back to last spring and this fall, I have a set protocol for anyone on our staff who may be removed due to COVID, including myself as a head coach,” said Bielema in a statement released by the school. “Our players and coaches have prepared for 10 games already this year and today’s news will just be a continuation of that process. Through technology, I will be as present as possible, however, when I can’t be present our assistant head coach George McDonald will handle those moments.

“George and I have had discussions before today if this situation would arise and I have full confidence in him and our staff in preparation for Iowa.”

Bielema, who is in his first year at Illinois, said in the statement that he believes he’ll be back for Illinois’ season finale against Northwestern in Champaign on November 27th. So far, there have been no other cases of COVID-19 reported on the team.

“Coach will remain as involved as possible throughout the week, and we are confident in Coach McDonald’s ability to serve in his place where needed, including during the game at Iowa on Saturday,” said athletic director Josh Whitman in a statement from the school. “In the meantime, our medical staff is taking all necessary steps to ensure that we are monitoring the team and taking appropriate precautions to limit any potential spread within the program. I have great confidence in our staff and players, and I look forward to another strong performance in Iowa City this week.”

In Bielema’s first year, Illinois has had an up-and-down year as they’ve gone 4-6 yet have upset two Top 25 teams on the road. The Illini will need to win their last two games to qualify for a bowl game.

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