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Illini football coach Bret Bielema will miss the Iowa game after testing positive for COVID-19

In this file photo, Illinois football coach Bret Bielema shakes hands with Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez after a 30-22 Illinois win in August. Bielema announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois football coach Bret Bielema has tested positive for COVID-19, the program announced on Tuesday.

Bielema will miss this Saturday’s game at Iowa, where he played football in college, per team COVID protocols to help limit spread of the virus.

In a statement, Bielema says he developed “mild symptoms” on Monday and received a positive COVID test late Monday. He says he is fully vaccinated against the virus and received a booster shot last week.

Assistant head coach George McDonald will assume head coaching duties for the game at Iowa on Saturday. Bielema says he should be available next week to coach the regular season finale against Northwestern.

Illinois is 4-6 this season and needs to win its final two games to become bowl eligible. The Illini are coming off a bye week, after beating Minnesota 14-6 in Minneapolis on Nov. 6.

In a Zoom press conference Monday, Bielema said that two members of the football program had tested positive for COVID following the Penn State game on Oct. 23, but did not mention any more recent positive tests.

Bret Bielema statement:

“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. 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. If all stays on the current path, I should be available and present for next week. Our team has shown repeatedly this year that next man up is the standard not the exception and this will be another example of this mentality in our Illini FamILLy.”

Athletic Director Josh Whitman statement:

“Unfortunately, we are being reminded every day that the pandemic is not over – a point brought home by this most recent news regarding Coach Bielema. As with every other part of the program, Coach and the football staff have a plan for this contingency, and they began executing on that plan overnight. 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. 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.”

Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianMolineWILL.

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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