The Gophers’ struggling defense will be without its leader Saturday at Illinois.
Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has tested positive for COVID-19, the program announced Thursday. The coach received the positive test result this week while undergoing the rapid-results daily antigen testing per Big Ten policy. A following PCR test confirmed, and Rossi has been isolating at home and working remotely since, per the athletic department’s release.
He is the only coach on staff who tested positive this week, the team said. Without him, Joe Harasymiak will step in as defensive coordinator. Harasymiak is already the co-DC while helming the defensive backs and safeties. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Maine in 2014-15 before spending three years as the Black Bears’ head coach.
The Gophers usually make Rossi and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. available to the media on Wednesdays, but delayed that to Thursday this week with access only to Sanford. Before Sanford’s video call, a team spokesman said he would defer all questions about Rossi’s COVID-19 diagnosis to coach P.J. Fleck, who will next speak to the media after the Illinois game.
It’s unclear how Rossi might have contracted the virus and who on the team has been in close contact with him and thus potentially exposed. The Gophers have not released COVID-19 information in terms of specific players. Multiple players have been unavailable for each of the first two games, but the team hasn’t explained if they are injured, have tested positive or are sitting out as part of contact tracing protocol.
The Gophers haven’t revealed the exact date of Rossi’s first positive test, though Big Ten and CDC recommendations are for coaches to sit out 10 days after testing positive. Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst has been away from his team during the current outbreak of 28 cases for the Badgers.
On Monday, the Gophers athletics department announced via its website an overall testing update for the month of October, with 62 positive results from 6,257 tests, a jump from September’s 2,183 administered tests with the start of football’s daily regimen. Since the department began testing in June, there have been 160 positives from 9,846 tests. The department does not specify athletes from staff members or by sport.
An athletics department spokesman confirmed the department did contact tracing on Rossi to identify those he might have interacted with and is communicating with the Minnesota Department of Health.
Rossi’s defense allowed 675 yards at Maryland last weekend and has contributed to the Gophers’ 0-2 start this season. But Rossi said last week he was confident in the team’s contingency plan should COVID-19 affect personnel.
“We have plans in place for a variety of situations, whether it’s players, coaches, staff, whoever it may be,” Rossi said at the time. “If something happens, we’ll have a plan, and we’ll respond, and we’ll go to work.”