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Columbia head coach Brian Allen stepping aside due to coronavirus concerns

Veteran coach plans to be behind the scenes in 2020

Columbia High School coach Brian Allen during a practice last year.
Columbia High School coach Brian Allen during a practice last year. (News4Jax)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Brian Allen is stepping away from his head football coaching position at Columbia this season due to concerns about the coronavirus and the possibility of bringing it home to his family.

The Columbia High School coach said on Tuesday night that he was “taking a step back” in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will not serve as the team’s head coach.

Allen, 81-27 in nine seasons with Columbia, has never missed the playoffs at his alma mater. He is the area’s first head coach to voluntarily step aside this season due to coronavirus concerns. The Tigers had a coaching staff member die from COVID-19 last month.

Allen cited serious apprehension about trying to coach in the current climate and worried about bringing the virus home to his family, including a daughter who has underlying health issues requiring medication that suppresses her immune system.

Allen will remain on staff and help out with the team in limited capacity, but defensive coordinator John Woodley will take over for him.

The Lake City Reporter was the first to report on Allen’s decision.

“I’m going to be behind the scenes,” he said. “I’ll be on the golf cart and I’ll be around. As we get closer to this season potentially happening, I may be on the headset at practice.”

Allen, a former star at Columbia and Florida State, had been conflicted much of the summer in how to safely bring players back into workouts and conditioning, all while trying to manage the risk at home. Columbia was hopeful to start practice in early September. Allen said that he was in favor of following the Florida High School Athletic Association’s sports medicine advisory committee’s report about waiting to see how COVID-19 cases looked once full student populations returned to campus.

Columbia was mostly aligned with that decision, but Allen said that he had a change of heart last weekend when weighing things out and looking more intensely at data. He spoke to his administration and then his coaching staff and decided to step away over the weekend. Family was his major focus in this decision.

Allen has two daughters who still remain at home with he and his wife. His youngest daughter, 6, undergoes treatment for a medical condition that leaves her with a compromised immune system and the potential to bring the virus home was too great, he said. Allen hopes to return to the head coaching position in spring if conditions are conducive to that.

“I’m going to have to back up this year. I have a kid who has some things going on [medically] and I can’t compromise that. I wouldn’t be able to live that down,” he said. “If I brought it home I could give it to my wife, my other daughter. We know how this thing works and spreads.”

Allen has been an advocate among his colleagues to defer to the medical professionals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He thought that teams starting practice this week, and games in early September, was too soon. Unlike college football, high schools don’t test players for COVID-19.

“We can sanitize and clean and mist and fog all we want,” he said. “We’re not testing kids. And you see places that are testing kids and you’re seeing positives there.”

Allen replaced Craig Howard in 2011. Howard, who had a stellar run at Nease from 2003-07 and reached three straight championship games, went 18-13-1 in Lake City. Allen has been a stabilizing presence at his alma mater, coaching future NFL players like Laremy Tunsil and Trey Marshall. He has led Columbia to the state playoffs in each of his nine seasons.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.