Florida football: Two coaches, many players positive; LSU game uncertain; Dan Mullen walks back comments

By Adam Silverstein
October 14, 2020
Florida football: Two coaches, many players positive; LSU game uncertain; Dan Mullen walks back comments

Image Credit: ESPN Images

In an extended appearance on the weekly SEC teleconference, Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen addressed numerous issues related to COVID-19 surrounding his program ahead of its scheduled meeting against the LSU Tigers on Saturday. Most importantly, Mullen said No. 10 Florida is in the midst of a new batch of tests for its football program after positive results impacted nearly 30 players and a couple of coaches.

There are reportedly 19 Gators who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the week with 10 more in quarantine amid contact tracing, according to The Athletic‘s G. Allen Taylor. Mullen did not confirm a specific number on Wednesday, though he did share that two assistant coaches have also popped positive on COVID-19 tests.

Since five positives were found on Florida’s first set of testing this week, the program has moved to daily COVID-19 testing, Mullen confirmed. Practice was shut down on Tuesday, and the entire program took an early-morning test on Wednesday, the results of which will impact not only whether the Gators can practice this week but the status of the Florida-LSU game set for Saturday at 4 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Mullen said the Gators have already created a revised practice schedule that will allow the program to get all of its normal work completed despite suspending all team activities on Tuesday after the rash of positive test results hit the program.

Should the game be postponed, it would likely move to Dec. 12, an SEC-wide off week that was specifically created as a home for postponed games to be played before the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 19. UF and LSU do not share the same bye week this season.

There have been 28 FBS games already postponed this season. The showdown between the Gators and Tigers would be the 29th but just the second SEC game behind Missouri-Vanderbilt, which was postponed earlier this week.

Players who test positive for COVID-19 must be isolated for at least 10 days and until they test negative. Those who are deemed to have been in close contact with positive individuals must be quarantined for 14 days. As such, it is not only this week’s game that will be impacted but also next week’s, at least from a roster perspective.

Mullen opened Wednesday’s call by attempting to walk back comments he made following the Texas A&M game on Saturday in which the coach urged University of Florida administration to open every seat inside The Swamp for public on sale now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has ruled that stadiums could be filled to capacity.

The coach’s comments received significant blowback through Monday and were met with additional backlash on Tuesday as positive COVID-19 tests hit his program. Both Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and school president W. Kent Fuchs have made clear that there are no plans to increase capacity at Florida Field, which is currently capped at 20% (17,000 seats) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosting South Carolina two weeks ago, the program left with 2,000 unsold tickets.

Mullen attempted to reframe his “pack The Swamp” comments as not so much asking the stadium to be full of fans but rather imploring as many fans as possible to come to games and provide enough energy to impact the players on the field.

“I have tremendous respect for our local health officials. I think they’ve done a great job for us here at Florida,” Mullen said. “I think a lot of my comments maybe got taken [a wrong way as if I was] demanding. But it was more that, whatever our health officials allow us to have in, that’s what we want to have in the stadium to keep everybody safe and healthy, and as well as to create an unbelievable environment fr our players and create energy within the stadium.

“I certainly apologize if I offended people or anybody out there. I think anybody that knows me, knows our program, knows how we do things, we have great respect for all of our local health officials and for what they’ve been able to do, and what we’ve been doing here.”

The Gators coach stated on Saturday that he wanted 90,000 fans to be in attendance to see his team take on the Tigers. To provide context, those comments came immediately after Florida’s late 41-38 loss to Texas A&M. Though the Aggies announced an attendance of under 25,000, there were indeed packed sections at Kyle Field, and the fans did make a lot of noise. However, Gators players said they were not affected by it when asked about the crowd after the game.

“I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully, the university administration decides to let us pack The Swamp for LSU next week. One-hundred percent. Because that crowd was a major factor in the game, and so, I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor,” Mullen said Saturday. “Our governor has passed a rule that we are allowed to pack The Swamp … to give us that home-field advantage like Texas A&M had today. I want to see 90,000 in The Swamp. … Hopefully, that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we’ve passed a law in our state that we can do that.”

Nevertheless, during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, Mullen brushed off multiple opportunities provided to him by the gathered media to address those heat-of-the-moment comments. He refused to discuss whether he had give additional thought to his stance or had any regrets in making his specific comments, instead pointing to his being focused on preparing for the LSU game.

“Yeah, I’ve been preparing for LSU,” he said Monday. “I’ll be honest. 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. 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.”

OnlyGators.com will update this story as more information is made available.

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