EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants coaching staff is getting thin for this week’s game against the Cleveland Browns after outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema left to become the head coach at the University of Illinois on Saturday morning and offensive assistant Stephen Brown tested positive for COVID-19.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had already tested positive earlier in the week. He also will miss Sunday’s game against the Browns.
The Giants are currently working with the league’s chief medical officer regarding close contacts with Brown. In the meantime, the team is following its normal practice and meeting schedule for Saturday.
New York (5-8) is one game out of first place in the NFC East entering the weekend. Coach Joe Judge has been adamant about being able to roll with the punches. He views it as his job.
“I think we always make it an emphasis on thriving on adversity,” he said earlier in the week. “As I said a few weeks ago, it’s adapt or die. Look, something happens, we just keep moving on. We have plans in place. We have a process that we stick to for each game. What’s important right now is that we get all the players prepared to play Sunday night.”
Bielema received a six-year deal from Illinois that starts at $4.2 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg. He leaves the Giants, effective immediately.
Inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer and defensive assistant Jody Wright will take over Bielema’s responsibilities with the outside linebackers.
Bielema was on the field as recently as Friday afternoon coaching the linebackers. Although it all unfolded quickly, the Giants aren’t upset with the way the situation played out.
“We always want to be supportive of our coaches and players in terms of advancing their careers,” Judge said in a statement. “We appreciate everything Bret did for this organization and our coaching staff. He did he a great job with our outside linebackers and made a significant impact on our overall defensive effort. Bret is a great teacher, and he brings great perspective on how he sees the game. We wish him all the best at the University of Illinois. The Illini program is in great hands.”
Brown is the latest Giant affected by the coronavirus this week. Top cornerback James Bradberry also was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday after being identified as a high-risk close contact resulting from his chiropractor testing positive. Bradberry can return to the team Monday assuming he continues to test negative and doesn’t have any symptoms.
It’s all going to make things more difficult for the Giants against the Browns. Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens will serve as the offensive playcaller in Garrett’s place. His assistant Bobby Blick will handle the tight ends.
Garrett has remained involved with the team remotely throughout the week. The only major difference was his absence on the practice field and eventually on Sunday.
Kitchens, meanwhile, gets a shot to call plays against the team that fired him less than a year ago.
“That’s kind of ironic. But really, it’s the next game,” Kitchens said Friday. “It truly is just the next game. It could have happened … We’ve kind of prepared for this throughout the year in training camp and things like that. It’s just kind of the next game. It just so happens we had a guy go down this week.”
And Garrett wasn’t the only one.