Joe Austin (left) with his brother Art Austin (right) during a track and field meet, where Joe coached. Photo was submitted to the Pensacola News Journal by Eric Nicholson.

A high school track and field coach died Sunday, July 26, from COVID-19, according to his family and DOH records.

Someone with knowledge of Joe’s condition reached out to us directly on Sunday about the 45-year-old’s passing.

“We are all so devastated by his illness and now by his subsequent death,” she wrote us in an email.

Joe went out to celebrate July 4 weekend with a friend in Santa Rosa county, where beach-goers notoriously bucked safety guidelines during the height of Florida’s outbreak.

He started feeling sick not long after, and both he and his friend eventually tested positive. Both were hospitalized, according to someone familiar with Joe’s case who asked not to be named.

On July 23, Joe’s wife, Laura, posted to Facebook that Joe was feeling much better.

Joe is out of ICU and back on a regular floor producing the majority of his own oxygen. We hope to get some positive information about his lungs tomorrow. He will also start physical therapy so please pray his oxygen levels stay up during this time so he can come home soon. Thank you for all of your prayers! We are blessed to have you in our lives.

From Laura Childers Austin’s Facebook page.

Joe had just been discharged after three weeks of being hospitalized for COVID-19 when he started shaking in the car, one source said.

He went into cardiac arrest hours later, was intubated, and died the next day.

His wife, Laura, posted about Joe’s condition on July 26:

Joe was going to come home last night, instead he is ICU again, they had to intubate him, and he is fighting for his life. I don’t have a lot of information, please understand I cannot talk or text right now. Please pray!

From Laura Childers Austin’s Facebook page.

An article published in the Pensacola News Journal characterized Joe as a person you could depend on, and a father who cared deeply for his young son.

Joe’s Facebook is filled with photos of his son — smiling, laughing, playing.

Joe posted information online about Santa Rosa’s online learning option for the upcoming school year, encouraging parents to look into it further.

“You could always come talk to Coach Joe.

Whether you needed a little advice, a little feedback, a little tough love or just a big laugh or two, Joe Austin was always there to help.

Except now, all of a sudden, he’s not, and the whole local athletics community is in grief and disbelief.

Milton High School track and field coach Joseph Austin passed away on Sunday night after a battle with COVID-19. A Milton High School graduate, Austin taught and coached in the area for roughly a decade.

Austin also served as dean of students at King Middle School, and the school’s principal Darren Brock said, “more than just being a track athlete or football athlete or whatever it happened to be, he wanted them to be good people. He wanted them to get along. He wanted them to root for each other.

“The biggest thing about him is he was a great dad,” Gillis said. “He was one of the best football coaches I knew, but he didn’t coach for a while because he had a son, and he didn’t want to miss anything in his life, and he wanted to be involved in every facet of his son’s life. He was a great husband and a great father.”

Pensacola News Journal, July 27, 2020

His death does not yet appear in FDLE records, possibly because he passed away just two days ago and FDLE has not yet received the report. DOH reports one male 45-years of age in Santa Rosa county as deceased with a case date of July 6, 2020, which matches the details provided by the two individuals who reached out to us earlier this week.

Santa Rosa county still does not mandate masks.

Joe’s obituary is posted online here.

From the Pensacola News Journal:

The Santa Rosa County athletic community is mourning the loss of a veteran high school sports coach due to COVID-19. 

Milton High School track and field coach Joe Austin passed away on Sunday night after an extended battle with coronavirus. Austin was also currently the Dean of Students at Martin Luther King Middle School in Milton. 

Austin’s coaching career extended well over a decade in Santa Rosa County as he previously served as an assistant football coach at Navarre in the mid-2000’s.

Florida state representative Jayer Williamson mourned Austin’s passing on his personal Facebook page Monday morning.

“Joe Austin was such a great guy. Mr. Positive, a gentle giant and always a great sense of humor … Just so hard to believe. Rest in peace, Big Joe. A lot of folks are better because of your short time with us. Love ya, brother!”

Fort Walton Beach football and track and field coach Kevin Rollins took to Facebook to eulogize his friend while urging people to take COVID-19 seriously. 

“I’ve known Joe since 2004 coaching football and track & field against him. Tremendous guy … The invisible monster (COVID) is for real. Don’t take it lightly and just because it affected one person one way, doesn’t mean it will affect you the same.”

Joe at a track and field award ceremony.