Gators' Mullen latest Power 5 head coach to deal with positive COVID-19 test

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen, who announced Saturday he tested positive for COVID-19, said Wednesday, "I'm doing fine, thank you for asking" on the SEC teleconference.

Among the nine college football head coaches who have tested positive for COVID-19 this season, Dan Mullen’s situation at Florida is distinctly different than those of the others.

While those other coaches were self-isolating, their programs carried on. Practices, workouts and meetings were held. Games were played. There was at least some sense of normalcy for the players and everyone else in those programs even with the head coach missing.

In the case of Mullen, he and the entire football team have been completely shut down since last Wednesday. Two games — LSU and Missouri — have been postponed and rescheduled. One of those games (Missouri on Oct. 31) could be in jeopardy a second time. The Gators will know more about that Monday, when the program reopens. Or at least is scheduled to reopen.

“There is not a whole lot going on with our team right now,” Mullen said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “We’re kind of in a quarantine, isolated and working remotely at this point.

“I’m doing fine. The team, for the most part, is very similar. The majority of our guys have had very minor symptoms. We shut down the program completely to get back to zero positives. We’re going to be closed until Monday. Hopefully, we’ll be back Monday. It’s our expectation.”

Unlike the other eight head coaches who have tested positive — Alabama’s Nick Saban, Kansas’ Les Miles, FSU’s Mike Norvell, UCLA’s Chip Kelly, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, Toledo’s Jason Candle and Purdue's Jeff Broham — Mullen’s positive was only one of many during a major outbreak on the UF team last week that saw 25 players test positive.

When the number reached 21 last Wednesday, last Saturday's LSU game was postponed. When it climbed even higher later in the week, the Missouri game also became a casualty.

Mullen hasn’t missed any games, of course, because the Gators will not have had any in the last two weeks. But he is missing contact with his family. He’s self-isolating at home, his space pretty much relegated to a bedroom and his office.

“I’m away from the kids and the family,” Mullen said. “I get my bedroom and then I have an office. I’ve been in there the whole time. They (wife Megan, son Canon and daughter Breelyn) are healthy. They’ve had multiple negative tests, thank goodness.”

Mullen hopes to return to work Monday. That’s something Les Miles did this past Monday, after missing the Jayhawks’ game at West Virginia on Saturday.

“We’re doing pretty well,” Miles said. “But it was very difficult not to be with the team.”

Miles watched the game back home in Lawrence. His last contact with his team came about an hour before kickoff when he talked to his assistant coaches on the phone. He did not have any contact with his players.

“I thought about doing it, being on the phone and talking to kids,” he said. “Basically I would have put an interjection in there that would have taken time and energy away from the direct path, in terms of adjustment.” 

FSU’s Norvell had a similar experience earlier this season when he had to stay home and miss the Seminoles’ game at Miami after testing positive. He was able to observe practices on his computer during the week with the help of multiple cameras on both practice fields. But once the ‘Noles boarded the team buses to head to the stadium, Norvell had no further contact with his team.

“It was very challenging,” he said. “It was a tough week. Not being there at that game is something I’ve never experienced. It was definitely a tough experience.

“One of the biggest challenges was being home and being isolated, not being able to give a hug to my daughter or wife.”

For much of last week, it looked like Saban would join Norvell and Miles as Power Five head coaches missing a game due to COVID-19. He tested positive last Wednesday and it looked like he would miss the Tide’s big and much-anticipated game against Georgia and his former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart.

But on Saturday morning he was given the green light to coach after a third consecutive negative test.

“It was pretty challenging,” Saban said of the uncertainty last week. “But it also made me have a lot of gratitude for the fact I thought I wasn’t going to be able (to coach in the game), that then I could.

“This sort of should be a lesson that I can share with everybody. My dad used to always say when I was growing up that somebody needs to close the barn door before the horse gets out. He was talking about anticipating problems.

“Once they tell you you’re positive, there’s nothing you can do about it. I was fortunate it was a false positive. I would encourage everybody out there to do everything they can to practice social distancing, wear a mask and manage their personal space so they don’t ever have to hear they have this.”

Saban, Norvell and Miles managed to successfully navigate their way through their COVID crisis.

Mullen is still in the middle of his. In fact, another player tested positive Monday morning. 

Mullen is hoping this ends with the return to work Monday. But even if the Gators can get back together and start practicing again, there figures to be more uncertainty. 

Like, what kind of physical shape will the players be in and will there be enough of them (53 scholarship players needed per the SEC) to play against Missouri on Oct. 31? And what if practice doesn’t start Monday? How late can they wait and still hope to play the game?

“We’d figure it out,” Mullen said. “We’ll find a way. The (SEC) at that point (would decide). Hopefully, we’re back Monday. We won’t be at full capacity as a team, but we feel pretty comfortable that our numbers would be at the point we could play the game.

“Our guys are pretty much in game shape. They’ve handled everything so far this year extremely well. I expect them to handle this the same.”