Florida's Dan Mullen learns the hard way about COVID-19
The coronavirus is relentless, insidious, infectious and completely oblivious to your opinions.
Last Saturday afternoon, Florida coach Dan Mullen was pushing for his school to allow some 90,000 fans to jam Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville for this week’s matchup with LSU.
By Wednesday, the game was postponed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among Florida players and coaches.
By Saturday, Mullen announced he had COVID-19 himself.
Just like that.
There is no need to pile on Mullen. After all, the 48-year-old is stuck dealing with self-isolation, an uncertain schedule and a team full of positive tests. And hopefully that is the worst of it. Hopefully he and his players only experience mild, if any, symptoms. You never know with COVID though.
His “Pack The Swamp” comments were ill-advised, but it came in moments of frustration following a loss to Texas A&M. Then he went and reiterated them two days later. But either way, the UF administration wasn't going to grant it. The school reiterated it would follow its own infectious disease doctors and experts and cap attendance at 20 percent, rather than the governor, who is allowing 100 percent.
“Coaches sometimes say things that are outside their area of expertise,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “And, you know, they are really good at what they do. Dan is really good at calling plays.”
It is, however, another reminder that you can take nothing for granted right now. Anywhere, of course. But with college football in particular.
Mullen went from begging to have a massive crowd at the game to not being able to coach even if the game hadn't already been postponed.
Mullen's positive test is the latest in a rough week for the SEC.
Alabama coach Nick Saban announced on Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. That was subsequently ruled a false positive after Saban had three negative tests. Saban is fine, which is the good news.
He did miss a few days of in-person prep though as his No. 2 Crimson Tide got ready for No. 3 Georgia on Saturday. Even when a positive turns out to be a negative, the virus is a hassle.
The LSU-Florida game had already been pushed back, of course. So too was Missouri-Vanderbilt. Florida’s Oct. 24 game against Missouri has also been postponed and will be played on Oct. 31.
As the season goes on, the available dates to move games are disappearing, decreasing the likelihood that every team will play the same amount of contests. Again, this is football in 2020.
It was easy to start the season. Finishing it has always been the question. Anyone who peddled something else was a fool.
The teams are trying, but apparently not even SEC defenses are any match for the virus. Just on Monday, Mullen was speaking confidently about the Gator protocols.
“I think if you look at what we've been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we're a model of safety of what we've been doing during this time period,” Mullen said. “So I'm really proud of how we've handled everything and how safe we've been with everything we're doing and all the precautions we've had in place during this time.”
Then the bubble broke.
Saban theorized that traveling to road games was what was making teams susceptible. In their own facilities, things were good. Add in buses, planes, hotels and a new environment, and it becomes a challenge.
“As soon as you travel, you get exposed to a lot more things and a lot more people,” Saban said.
Bama played at Ole Miss last weekend. Florida was at Texas A&M. Saban may have a point.
College football can and should continue to press forward. This season was never going to be perfect, anyway. Whatever we get, we get.
But this is also no time to become overconfident or dismissive of the risks. It’s why for all the laughs fans are having watching control freak coaches struggle with the proper wearing of a mask on the sideline, doing so is important, if only so the season can continue. And while young, healthy players are young and healthy, lots of older coaches and support staff aren't.
For Florida, it’s all up in the air now. Forget packing the Swamp. It's about hoping for the best for the coach, his players and a containment of the virus.
All while remembering that confidence can become COVID, just that quickly.
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