Coaching stress takes spotlight

By Joel Jellison

Football coaches work long hours and often have to deal with lofty, sometimes unrealistic expectations.

It’s a ‘what have you done for me lately,’ kind of profession, and the brutal hours that come with it are almost necessary to stay ahead of the game.

Whether it be professionally in the NFL or at the collegiate level, football coaches seem to put a ton of stress on their bodies.

In just the last week, Denver Broncos’ head coach John Fox and Houston Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak were rushed to the hospital, with Kubiak collapsing during a Sunday night game.

Throughout the season, current Minnesota and former Emporia State coach Jerry Kill’s seizures have become big news throughout the college football world, causing him to miss games.

The pressure of winning football games every week, seems to build as much stress in a few months that some will experience in a whole year.

“Football sure is stressful and coaching is a stressful occupation — just like a lot of people’s jobs are stressful,” Dan Reeves, who underwent heart surgery while coaching the Atlanta Falcons in 1998, told the Associated Press. “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.”

Fox underwent aortic valve replacement surgery Monday, two days after feeling dizzy while playing golf. Kubiak collapsed while walking off the field at halftime Sunday night.

The timing of the hospitalizations is 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 been one of the league’s best teams.

Coaches in the NFL and college deal with the stress of a career that puts them under the spotlight at all times. Most say the have regular physicals and work with doctors to understand the warning signs of stress-related health issues.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, college football’s oldest coach who turned 74 on Oct. 7, said the coaching game has changed and it has only made it more stressful.

“It’s obviously extremely stressful, I think you see that across the country,” he said. “It’s grown over time because it’s become all about winning and losing, and money and television. That creates a great deal of pressure on those that are involved in the profession. I could see where it has an impact on one’s health.”

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, told the AP 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.”

Known for his legendary work hours by other coaches who know him, Snyder said his health hasn’t been a serious concern and it didn’t play into his decision to retired in 2005.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’ve been in, at least what my doctor’s seem to think, good health,” he said.

In the college game there have been other big headlines beyond Kill’s epileptic seizures. Urban Meyer complained of chest pains while at Florida in 2009, leading him to step away from coaching. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen collapsed in his home after a loss to Utah State.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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