Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is back in time for Friday’s rivalry game against Iowa after testing positive for COVID-19.
Speaking via video call from his campus office Wednesday, Rossi detailed his 10-day quarantine at home.
He watched last week’s game at Illinois on TV like any other fan, though he participated in team meetings virtually leading up to it.
In his absence, defensive backs/safeties coach Joe Harasymiak called the game, a 41-14 win for the Gophers and a much-improved defensive performance of only 287 yards against, as opposed to 675 from the previous game at Maryland.
Rossi first tested positive for COVID-19 the Sunday after the Oct. 30 Maryland game. He immediately went home to isolate — experiencing cold-like symptoms — and compared himself to a tiger in a cage with how restless he was to return.
But the coach gave a lot of credit to the Big Ten’s daily testing protocol as well as the Gophers’ own standards to ensure his case didn’t multiply into a team epidemic.
“It was different,” Rossi said of his time away from the team. “I will leave it at that.”
Up or down?
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., was up and down as the Utah State offensive coordinator last year.
Well, as far going from calling games from up in the press box to down on the field halfway through the season.
Sanford said Wednesday he liked being on the field because he could look his offensive players in the eye, “see inside their souls” and gauge what inspirational words might spark their energy.
That’s not really needed with the Gophers, where he’s made the press box his domain.
“There is never going to be a lack of energy with who our head coach is,” Sanford said. “There’s no need to come down on the field and motivate and inspire on game day because we have so much energy with how our culture operates from a regular basis.”
In the comfort of a suite, Sanford has ability to take plenty of notes and see the literal big picture of the game. He can also sit right next to wide receivers coach and co-coordinator Matt Simon for easy communication and gains even more information thanks to calls from on-field assistant coaches and players.
“We’ve made a lot of in-game adjustments. Some of it has been very minor to the naked eye,” Sanford said. “ … And I think that’s really helped us in the run game.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was the offensive line coach for the Hawkeyes in 1984 when he observed a late-spring Vikings’ workout under new coach Les Steckel. While in town, he watched offensive lineman Curtis Rouse answer questions from one persistent newspaper reporter: Sid Hartman.
“They had a priceless exchange, just priceless. I mean, I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s pretty good,’“ Ferentz said near the end of his video conference Tuesday.
But on what made it so memorable, Ferentz demurred: “Well, it’s not appropriate for public consumption. It was entertaining, though.”
With his team preparing to travel to Minneapolis for Friday’s game, the longtime Hawkeyes coach paused, unprompted, to reminisce about the 100-year-old Star Tribune columnist and lifelong Gophers booster, who died Oct. 18.
“What a treasure. Just what a treasure,” Ferentz said. “So to his family, I just want to express my sympathies. He was a unique person, a really unbelievable guy.”
Staff writer Phil Miller contributed to this report.