Stress of coaching can add up quick in the NFL
The hours are brutal, and so are the expectations of millions who sit in judgment of what you do on Sundays.
Being a coach in the NFL isn’t necessarily an automatic ticket to the emergency room. But the hospitalization of two coaches on one midseason weekend_one after collapsing on U.S. primetime television_is a scary reminder that the unrelenting pressure of trying to win games week after week can be hazardous.
“Football sure is stressful and coaching is a stressful occupation_just like a lot of people’s jobs are stressful,” said Dan Reeves, who underwent heart surgery while coaching the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. “But it’s such a time-consuming job that you don’t really take care of yourself the way you should, and it’s easy to have those things happen.”
Like Denver’s John Fox, Reeves knew he had heart issues during the season. Like Fox, he wanted to put them off as his team made a run to the playoffs.
And like Fox he ended up in the hospital while his team played without him.
“Good thing I finally said something to a doctor,” Reeves said, “or I could have had a heart attack.”
Fox underwent aortic valve replacement surgery on Monday, two days after feeling dizzy while playing golf near his offseason home in North Carolina. Predictably, the team issued a statement quoting the coach as saying he was disappointed to have to leave the team and looked forward to returning to the sidelines as soon as possible.
Not so predictable is the future of Gary Kubiak, who collapsed while walking off the field at halftime on Sunday in a game his team would go on to lose in his absence. Though his Houston Texans issued a statement saying Kubiak was alert and in good spirits, he will remain in a Houston hospital at least through Tuesday while doctors run tests to find out what caused him to go down.
They’re coaches of two teams going in different directions, with one thing in common: Both are suddenly powerless to do anything about it.
“It’ll be tough on them, sitting there and thinking they can’t do what they are supposed to do, that your job is to help your team,” former coach Tony Dungy said. “You really feel that: ‘I can’t help my team.’”
The timing of the hospitalizations just a day apart was coincidental, though still a bit unsettling to the rest of the coaching fraternity. Kubiak’s collapse came after a rare good half this season for the Texans, while Fox was enjoying a bye week in a season where the Broncos have enhanced expectations that they will be in the Super Bowl.
Both make millions coaching in the NFL, but the job comes at a price and with the understanding that winning is the only thing.
“There is a lot of pressure on head coaches,” Broncos executive John Elway said. “I think especially with the size of this game and the growth of this game, the expectation levels have continued to grow. So that’s a tough, tough spot.”
Elway said he called Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson on Sunday to see how the Colts managed last year, when coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and hospitalized. Pagano had been experiencing extreme fatigue and bruising but, like Fox, waited until the team’s bye week to be checked out by a doctor.
Pagano would return for the last regular-season game, and the Broncos are already preparing for the eventual return of Fox.
“This is Coach Fox’s team,” interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “I’m merely the person that’s able to keep it running right now while he’s healing.”
Coaches around the league talked Monday about how they try to deal with the stress of a job that takes place under an unrelenting spotlight. They praised team doctors for making sure they have regular physicals, and said they try to understand the warning signs that come with the job.
Then they went back to their offices to break down film and get ready for another Sunday where 70,000 people in the stadium and millions more at home are second guessing their every move.
“There are times when stress does things to you mentally and physically that nothing else does,” said Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who took over for Pagano when he was sick. “I know when I was at Temple (University) my last year, I was having three migraines a week. The day I got fired I didn’t have another migraine.”