Oct 30, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema before the start of Saturday s NCAA football game with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema tests positive, out vs. Iowa

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema is out for Saturday’s game against Iowa after a breakthrough case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Monday.

Bielema, who is vaccinated and received a booster shot recently, tested positive but feels well enough to be involved from a distance as the Fighting Illini (4-6) ready for the Big Ten date with the Hawkeyes (8-2) on Saturday.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said the positive test was another reminder “the pandemic is not over” but said preparation for a potential COVID-19 case on the coaching staff helped the team enact a plan for the week ahead.

Illinois assistant head coach George McDonald will assume Bielema’s gameday responsibilities.

“If all stays on the current path,” Bielema said in a statement issued through the school on Tuesday, “I should be available and present for next week.”

“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.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 3, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema  stands win the sidelines before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Bielema announced as new coach at Illinois

Illinois named Bret Bielema as its new head coach on Saturday, quickly filling the role left vacant by the firing of Lovie Smith last week.

The Illinois native, who previously coached at Wisconsin and Arkansas, will received a six-year deal with an annual salary of $4.2 million.

“Illinois and the Big Ten is home for me, and I can’t be any more excited about the opportunity in front of me with the Fighting Illini,” Bielema said. “We want to build a program that makes Illini Nation proud and regain the passion that I’ve seen when Illinois wins.”

Bielema, 50, owned a 68-24 record (.739) in seven seasons with the Badgers (2006-12) and 29-34 (.460) in five seasons with the Razorbacks (2013-17). His teams are 4-5 in bowl games, including back-to-back losses in the Rose Bowl during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Bielema was a defensive consultant to the New England Patriots in 2018 and served as defensive line coach last season. He then joined the New York Giants and their new head coach Joe Judge, who was previously New England’s special teams coordinator.

“Bret’s blue collar work ethic and genuine, authentic manner will allow him to form strong connections to his players and staff and positive relationships in our community and our state,” athletic director Josh Whitman said. “These qualities, combined with his commitment to education and his track record of success, give me great confidence in his leadership of our football program.”

Illinois fired Smith after five seasons on Sunday.

Smith, 62, took over the Fighting Illini in the 2016 season, and his teams were 17-39 (10-33 Big Ten). His best record was 6-7 in 2019, a season that ended with a 35-20 loss to Cal in the Redbox Bowl.

The Illini haven’t finished their regular season with a record above .500 since 2007, when they were 9-4 and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl — a 49-17 loss to Southern California.

–Field Level Media