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Can't stress this enough: Coaches at fault for their lifestyle

by | National Columnist

During the NFL season when Jon Gruden coached in Tampa he woke at 3:11 a.m. and was in the office by 4. Players walked into the team facility for their morning meetings and Gruden had already been there for hours.

His insane wakeup call earned him a nickname among some Buccaneers players: 311.

Mark Dantonio, like many coaches, has been playing a dangerous game. (AP)  
Mark Dantonio, like many coaches, has been playing a dangerous game. (AP)  
As Gruden's work schedule became more publicly known, other coaches around the NFL privately called Gruden a phony. They didn't buy his 3:11 a.m. act or thought he was publicizing it to make other coaches look lazy. None of that was accurate. Gruden was a legitimate, hardcore workaholic.

Fear was one of Gruden's key motivators. Fear of being outworked. Fear his opponents were up at 3:10, a minute earlier than he was.

Fast forward to last Saturday and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. It's not a stretch to say Dantonio came perilously close to dying on the sideline during his game against Notre Dame. Minutes after Dantonio's Spartans beat the Irish, he was rushed to the hospital where an angioplasty procedure likely saved his life.

After Dantonio's hospitalization there was a great deal of hand wringing from the media and coaches. The main theme: coaches are coaching themselves into the morgue because of extreme schedules, long hours and absurd demands on their time.

This is the part where others would express sympathy for stressed out coaches. While every person deserves good health, the average transit worker, cab driver, landscaper, computer programmer, and accountant have just as much stress as coaches. None of them is surrounded by an army of doctors and training staff. None of them has the parachute of a multi-million dollar salary.

Coaches have health care. Many Americans don't.

There's actually little excuse for a coach to neglect his health when he can take a short walk into the team's medical facility and visit with some of the best doctors and health experts in the world.

"There's no doubt you wear yourself thin trying to win every game," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

That's true, but the $5 million Brown will earn in salary can add a lot of padding.

Missouri's Gary Pinkel characterizes the stress as unimaginable. (US Presswire)  
Missouri's Gary Pinkel characterizes the stress as unimaginable. (US Presswire)  
"It is an issue every coach must deal with," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said when speaking of the stress in his coaching life. "The intensity of the stress is pretty incredible. It is beyond anything you can imagine."

An American soldier in Afghanistan can certainly imagine some pretty significant levels of stress.

Coaches make choices and they choose to add stress to their lives, sometimes unnecessarily. There was no true reason for Gruden to crawl out of bed at three in the morning. He wasn't manning a missile silo. He was coaching a football team.

I've made the mistake of praising coaches for working like zombies when I should've questioned their sanity for working at the expense of possibly their health and marriages.

These coaches could quickly ease the stress. They could delegate more. They have huge staffs and massive resources even on the college level. Hell, especially on the college level.

Some of them don't ease their duties out of ego. They want the spotlight and media attention. They make sacrifices in their personal lives to get better jobs and more exposure and then blame the coaching life when their heart skips or their blood pressure skyrockets. There are NFL coaches who won't allow their assistants to speak with the media because those head coaches only want themselves before the cameras. I don't feel empathy for them if they're stressed.

The Dantonio case is supposed to be some sort of wakeup call for coaches, but we've heard this before. Urban Meyer's brief retirement because of health issues was supposed to be a wake-up call. The coaches who actually have died because of heart attacks were supposed to be wake-up calls. Then time passed and the coaching life continued unabated. They don't learn.

Not so sure Gruden ever did. The only wakeup call he seemed to care about was the one that came at 3:11 every morning.

Somehow I'm sure he wasn't -– and isn't –- alone.

And who deserves the blame for that?


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