UCLA coach Chip Kelly tested positive for coronavirus early in the pandemic
In a college football season on the brink before the opening kickoff, the losses mounting before the first touchdown, Chip Kelly can point to all the ways things can go wrong despite the best of intentions.
He can tell his own story about how he mysteriously contracted the virus that is threatening to wipe the 2020 season off the books.
The UCLA football coach tested positive for the novel coronavirus in late March after campus was shut down, according to multiple people close to the football team who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss a private health issue.
Kelly does not know how he contracted the virus, the people close to the team said. He was tested after experiencing mild symptoms and having followed all public health recommendations, including physical distancing, wearing a mask outside his home and not socializing or going anywhere except to obtain essentials such as groceries. His wife, Jill, also tested positive and recovered at home.
Kelly and UCLA athletic department officials declined to comment on his positive test.
The coach immediately informed athletic department officials, staff and coaches as well as players and their families of his positive test. No one associated with the team or athletic department had to quarantine as a result of Kelly’s positive test. UCLA held only four spring practices, including one indoors because of poor weather, before canceling the rest on March 12 as sports leagues across the country began to shut down.
Kelly shared his ordeal with his team to demonstrate how players should take the virus seriously.
‘This is conference-wide collective action. It’s unprecedented,’ said an ex-Northwestern player who fell short in trying to organize his team into a union.
Eight UCLA players tested positive upon their return to campus beginning in late June, but none have tested positive since resuming workouts, according to one person close to the team. Players are tested every other week and required to follow safety protocols designed to protect them from the virus.
“We have guidelines we’re trying to set, not just from the health department but from the team in general,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said Thursday during a wide-ranging interview that did not touch upon Kelly’s positive test. “We don’t want to lose a guy three or four weeks just because they caught COVID and spread it to the team and now we all have to go home, so we’re trying to do the best we can right now just to social distance and kind of stay in each other’s individual bubbles to protect the team more so than anything.”
Thompson-Robinson said the team’s success in warding off the virus has started with Kelly.
“He has done a phenomenal job working with everybody as well as the health department, the players and the staff of really putting together a plan,” Thompson-Robinson said, “and guys are doing a really good job of following that plan and so I’m really happy that we’re all mature enough now to really social distance and follow the guidelines that are set for us.”
The Bruins are still in the early stages of their return-to-competition plan, which involves physically distanced outdoor strength and conditioning in groups of 10 or fewer. Players are allowed 14 hours of work each week, including eight hours of strength and conditioning and six hours of virtual team meetings.
UCLA is awaiting Los Angeles County and campus clearance for an additional six hours of walk-throughs per week. New Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond said he was pleased with the school’s deliberate approach as it tries to prepare for a season opener Sept. 26 against USC that remains tenuous given the rising virus caseload across the country. As of Thursday, 139 athletes across multiple sports were back on campus.
Eight UCLA football players have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Barbara Ferrer, director of L.A. County’s public health department.
“I like the way that we are progressing slowly,” Jarmond said. “We are moving slower than most because we want to learn as much as we can and Chip has been initiating that from the start and he and I are in alignment with, this is the right approach for UCLA because if we are slower, then we can learn from other schools and get as much data as we can.”
The restrictions have prevented Thompson-Robinson from throwing to his receivers on his own practice field. So he sought recommendations for public parks on Twitter and has discovered some that have worked to his liking.
Of course, nothing beats practicing on familiar turf.
“Right now I’m just ready to get back on Spalding,” Thompson-Robinson said of the Bruins’ practice field, “and get back out there and throw the ball and have fun with my guys again.”
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