Stress of coaching can add up quick in the NFL

Stress of coaching can add up quick in the NFL
November 4, 2013, 6:54 pm
Share This Post

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, file photo, Denver Broncos coach John Fox cheers on his players after a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter of an NFL football game, in Denver. Fox was taken to a hospital in the Charlotte, N.C., area Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, after feeling light-headed while playing golf during the Broncos' bye week. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)

(APWF)

The hours are brutal, and so are the expectations of millions who sit in judgment of what you do on Sunday afternoon.

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 primetime television - is a scary reminder that the unrelenting pressure of trying to win football games week after week can be a dangerous thing.

''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 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 Sunday night in a game his team would go on to lose in his absence. Though the 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 of football this season for the Texans, while Fox was enjoying a bye week in a season where the Broncos have done nothing to diminish 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 my last year, I was having three migraines a week. The day I got fired I didn't have another migraine.''

Stress can affect people in different ways, but researchers say there is an expanding body of evidence linking it to increased risk for heart disease, strokes and certain types of cancer. George Slavich, director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research at UCLA, said it increases inflammation in the body which leads to health problems.

''Stress-related increases in inflammation are a secret killer in the United States,'' Slavich said. ''What we have here is a good example of how stress can affect people in a high stakes, high pressure environment.''

It doesn't get any more high stakes or high pressure than the NFL, but coaches everywhere are used to feeling the urgent need to produce. That's certainly true in the college ranks, where the pay at big schools is comparable to the NFL and alumni are every bit as demanding as NFL fans are when it comes to their school's football team.

Urban Meyer went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains the day after the SEC championship game when he was at Florida in 2009, and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen collapsed in the bathroom of his home the next year after a loss while at Utah State. Minnesota's Jerry Kill, meanwhile, had to take a leave of absence this year after suffering a series of epileptic seizures.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knows well the perils of his occupation. His father died in 1988 while coaching a high school game.

''I lost my father in the sidelines at 54-years-old, so if anybody knows the hazards of it, it's myself, my family, and the reason why I yearly, twice a year, am very aware of being checked thoroughly with doctors,'' Stoops said. ''Not that that can prevent it, but you want to use the science, and the medicine and doctors as much as you can.''

--

AP sports writers Howard Fendrich in Washington, Arnie Stapleton in Denver, Barry Wilner in New York, and Bob Baum and freelancer Jose Romero in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Texans - Team News
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
According to HoustonTexans.com, there's a "decent chance" Jadeveon Clowney (knee)... "He feels good," coach Bill O'Brien said Monday. "Well see how it goes this week in practice. We'll be able to make a determination pretty soon about whether...
Oct 21 3:58PM Read More
Garrett Graham - TE
Garrett Graham caught two passes for 24 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers. Graham was targeted three times, but dropped the other. It can be considered one of Graham's better statistical games of the season, which obviously means he's nowhere near...
Oct 20 11:31PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins each saw a team-high nine targets. There was nothing special about Johnson's night. His biggest play was a 24-yard grab on a deep in route in...
Oct 20 11:25PM Read More
DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins caught six passes for 108 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Hopkins and Andre Johnson each saw a team-high nine targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw it to whichever receiver was working against embattled Steelers CB Cortez Allen. ...
Oct 20 11:16PM Read More
Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue rushed for 14 yards on five carries and caught an 11-yard touchdown in the Texans'... Blue was the vulture on the opening-drive 11-yard score after Arian Foster managed 59 rushing yards to get the Texans near the goal line. Foster is an every-down back,...
Oct 20 11:09PM Read More
Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21-of-32 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception... Fitzpatrick played well for much of the first half, leading the Texans on three consecutive scoring drives to open the game. It was a train wreck thereafter. One play...
Oct 20 10:56PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster rushed for 102 yards on 20 carries in the Texans' 30-23, Week 7 loss to the... Foster got off to a blazing start, rushing for 59 yards on the Texans' 94-yard opening touchdown drive, but was vultured by Alfred Blue for the 11-yard touchdown catch to...
Oct 20 10:47PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is inactive for Monday night's Week 7 game against the Steelers. Clowney's lateral agility wasn't where the Texans wanted it to be in pre-game warmups. He's been out since undergoing knee surgery after Week 1. Whitney Mercilus is...
Oct 20 6:09PM Read More
DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins (hand) is probable for Week 7. The Texans listed Hopkins on the injury report, but his status was never in doubt. He'll be a WR3 for Monday night against the Steelers.
Oct 18 2:54PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster (groin) is probable for Monday night's game against the Steelers. Foster was limited on Thursday, but practiced in full the last two days. He should have another heavy workload against a Steelers defense that's allowing 4.4 yards per carry...
Oct 18 2:48PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) was upgraded to full in Saturday's practice and is listed as probable for... Johnson is good to go for Monday night's matchup with the Steelers. He's Rotoworld's No. 15 receiver this week.
Oct 18 2:39PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is listed as questionable for Monday night's game against... Clowney got in two limited practices this week, but said he still "can't run laterally." He could be held out in an attempt to get fully healthy for Week 8. If...
Oct 18 2:20PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) returned to practice Friday. It was Clowney's first practice since undergoing knee surgery in Week 1. He's expected to be a game-time decision for Monday night. Clowney will likely be on a limited snap...
Oct 17 6:08PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster (groin) was upgraded to full in Friday's practice. Foster suffered a groin injury in last Thursday's loss to the Colts, but his Week 7 status isn't in doubt. He should be fine for Monday night against the Steelers.
Oct 17 6:02PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) remained limited in Friday's practice. The Texans are limiting Johnson's practice reps, but he's expected to play on Monday night. Johnson is Rotoworld's No. 15 receiver this week.
Oct 17 5:53PM Read More