ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wasn't until Day 9 that Ed Donatell began to feel the impact of COVID-19.
The Broncos' defensive coordinator made it through more than a week after testing positive before he began to battle what he said Thursday were "heavy symptoms."
For Denver's 63-year-old coach, his experience with COVID-19 got much worse before it got better. Donatell revealed Thursday that he was hospitalized for five days before returning home with medication.
Donatell, who has not coached a game for the Broncos since Week 7, had never missed a game in his coaching career. As his battle with COVID continued, the longtime defensive coach quickly missed half of Denver's season.
"I never missed a game in my life, and then you go miss a section of the season there — six games — that's a different experience," Donatell said. "But you just have to deal with it. [A reporter] asked me if I was ever nervous, I think everybody should be nervous. I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I didn't [say] so, because there's so many unknowns about this virus. There are so many unknowns about it. It's not like a normal disease where people can tell you, 'Hey, this is what's happened in the past.' So, when you know all the research is ongoing, yeah, it puts up great interest. You're wondering, 'How far is this thing going to go?'"
Donatell credited the Broncos' medical staff that includes Director of Sports Medicine Steve "Greek" Antonopulos, Head Athletic Trainer Vince Garcia and Team Physician Dr. Steven Geraghty for "top shelf" care that allowed him to get past the novel coronavirus.
Donatell returned to UCHealth Training Center for first time last week, but he continues to rehabilitate from his fight with COVID-19. He said his strength is not at the level it was before he was diagnosed, but he called the virus a "temporary setback." Donatell said he's worked with Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Loren Landow to help improve his strength.
For the first time since the Broncos' first meeting with the Chiefs, Donatell is expected to attend and coach in Denver's Week 14 game in North Carolina.
"He's doing much better," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "He's been getting better and better every day since he came back last week. Right now, we are anticipating him probably going to the game. Obviously it could change here in the next 48 hours, but I think we'll have him in the box instead of on the field so he doesn't have to stand down there for over three hours. But yeah, it's a tremendous help [to have Donatell back]. Ed's got a veteran set of eyes. He's got a veteran set of eyes with me for 10 years. We can speak the same language really quick. We have a memory bank of things that have built up over 10 years. He's got an experienced diet seeing things on the field, and he'll be a tremendous help if we can get him back."
From the coaching box, Donatell will be able to provide better insight than from home, where he had to rely in real time on the TV broadcast to watch a game for which he helped install a game plan during the week.
"I don't like it," Donatell said of watching at home. "I can't see enough of the whole picture. It's really a weird experience when you know the calls, you were involved in creating the game plan, and you're not there. It's 40 years of coaching, 30 in the NFL, and all of a sudden you're sitting watching on the tube — it's just a weird experience. There's things you can pick up and draw from that, but I'd rather not do that again."
In Donatell's absence, Defensive Backs Coach Renaldo Hill and Defensive Quality Control Coach Chris Beake assumed some of his responsibilities and helped to lead Donatell's unit. While Fangio calls the defensive plays on game day, both Hill and Beake played a major role in the defense's continued success.
"They did extra work when I couldn't be here physically on the field," Donatell said. "I was always involved virtually most all the time, and they were top shelf. They were extraordinary as far as their commitment and making things work."
Donatell said he was "so thankful" for the well wishes he received from fans, members of the Denver community and players during his battle with COVID-19. As he nears 100 percent, though, the longtime football coach is ready to focus on the team's upcoming game against the Panthers.
"The big takeaway is you miss the contact with people," Donatell said. "That day-to-day contact with your players on the field, with your fellow coaches, coaching in games. I've never been deprived of that and that wasn't a lot of fun, but I learned some things. I learned how special a lot of things are in life to you, and how important your health is. There are times when you got to press the pause button and get it back to where it is. I couldn't be more juiced up to go to this game this week and coach and help our team.
"Really, my focus now is on the Carolina Panthers, as it has been on every team the last few weeks."