NFL coaches received a scary wake-up call over the weekend when Denver’s John Fox and Houston’s Gary Kubiak were hospitalized. Fox underwent heart valve replacement surgery after becoming dizzy playing golf, while Kubiak suffered what the team called a mini-stroke after collapsing at halftime of the Texans’ game with Indianapolis on Sunday.
Naturally, everyone blames the hazards of the profession. Long hours, pressure to win and intense scrutiny make it a high-stress job.
It’s difficult for coaches to maintain a healthy balance when they have one of the 32 most coveted jobs in the world in a profession where being a workaholic is glorified.
That doesn’t mean coaches should reserve a spot at the nearest emergency room and wait for the ambulance ride.
“I don’t say: ‘Hey, it could happen to anybody because I understand what goes on because I do it,’” Kelly said. “I also know there’s a lot of people that have stressful jobs. There’s firemen, policemen, doctors. There’s everybody. Whether you’re a football coach or anybody, you should take notice of what happened and just make sure that you can be preventive in what goes on.
“You have to have balance and take care of yourself.”
Kelly, a rookie coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, and his staff make sure to get their annual physical examinations. It’s not mandatory around the league, but common practice for many teams.
The importance of a routine check-up can’t be understated. Some coaches may not be aware they have a health issue until they see a doctor.
Longtime Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer said there was one instance a few years ago when an assistant coach had a heart ailment and was gaining weight. Tyer and the team doctor were so concerned about the coach’s health that he went to owner Dan Snyder, who encouraged the coach to retire. Snyder even paid the coach his salary for another year rather than have him stay on and risk having a heart attack.
Getting a complete physical is only the first step, however. Exercise and proper nutrition are necessary for everyone to maintain good health. Many coaches have the luxury of working at a place that has world-class fitness equipment, dietitians on staff and chefs preparing meals.
“We encourage guys to work out during the season because again it helps you mentally and physically when guys work out,” Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “It’s important to take care of yourself no matter what your profession is.”
Coaches often fall into bad eating habits because of the long hours they work. There don’t punch timecards and overtime only relates to deciding a tie game. So, if they don’t pack healthy snacks or meals for the late-night hours, they may end up eating fast-food or ordering from take-out menus every night. That certainly will take its toll.
“The biggest problem I have is you eat dinner around 5:30 or 6 and you are still working late at night and your body is craving just about every four or five hours,” Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “So when it’s 10ish, you start getting hungry.”
Then there’s the problem of sleep-deprivation. Coaches like Joe Gibbs and Dick Vermeil were legendary for sleeping at the office. Some guys might not see their families for a week.
“If you wanted to, you could be in your office for 24 hours and still not feel like you are prepared enough,” Shula said. “But you need to have balances and first of all make sure you eat right, exercise and then make sure you’re still a husband and a father.”
Shula is fortunate to work under Ron Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson.
“One of the things here I appreciate is Mr. Richardson’s attitude about this being a family atmosphere and I stress to our guys: ‘Hey, get your work done and get home,’” Rivera said.
Rivera and other coaches have to be mindful of their assistants who may overdo it and push themselves too hard to get ahead.
“You’ve got to be careful because there’s a lot of hours, a lot of pressure,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, “and you’ve got to keep an eye on your coaches because when they do get sick, a lot of times they can hurt themselves.”