PHOENIX -- They see themselves in Philadelphia's Andy Reid.
Like Reid, they are NFL head coaches with families. Unlike Reid, their children are not involved in public legal troubles that include drug use issues, but that doesn't mean his troubles haven't caused a lot of self-reflection among his coaching brethren.
When one coach has issues, they all seem to look in the mirror, self-evaluation the result.
|Andy Reid took a leave of absence to deal with his sons' troubles. (AP)|
Do I work too much?
Have I shunned my family?
"None of us is immune to it," St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan said.
Coaching has become a big-money profession with millionaires born every year. It's also a high-pressure job, one that requires hours and hours of work, much of it spent at the team's facility, away from Little League games and dance recitals.
The reality is NFL coaching wives are really mommy and daddy, with absentee fathers the norm rather than an aberration.
That's a sad sidelight of the profession.
Reid took a leave of absence Feb. 12 after his two sons were involved in separate traffic incidents that had more severe charges tagged on. One son faces charges he injured a woman while driving under the influence of heroin. The other son faces felony chargers of carrying a firearm with a license after a road rage incident.
Some will say his sons, ages 23 and 21, are grown men. But the two boys grew up in the coaching profession, which means long hours away from their father.
Reid returned to work last week and has been here taking part in the league's Winter Meetings. On Wednesday, during the NFC coach's breakfast, Reid declined to talk in specifics about his time away, saying he did most of his talking on the subject last week during a Philadelphia news conference.
He did talk about the support he has received from coaches, players, fans and the media.
"The city of Philadelphia and the fans were unbelievable," Reid said. "The organization was unbelievable. The media always take to bashing on things, but I thought the support of the media was phenomenal."
He has also been consoled by many of his colleagues this week.
"That is probably the most difficult thing you could ever hear," said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "In order to spend the amount of time we spend working, we need to know the kids and the wife are OK. That's why we have so much respect for Andy and what he's going through, the way Andy went about it the way he did. It's a very difficult thing."
As Reid sat at a table, clad in his bright Hawaiian shirt, he seemed at ease with being back on the job. In his time away, the Eagles conducted business as usual as Reid maintained communication with the front office.
"Maybe I didn't watch as much film, but I had a projector," Reid said. "I watched enough. And I'll continue to hit hard here this month. I have a pretty good foundation. I was able to stay up on free-agency. I did a lot of film work."
He was also much more of a presence at home. He was there for his kids.
That isn't the case most of the time with coaches in the NFL, which is sad. It's also a reason why it's pretty surprising that we don't hear more stories of NFL coach's kids having problems.
Do they know what seeing that empty seat at a Little League game can do to a kid's psyche?
Credit the wives.
"The wives do both duties," Linehan said. "It makes you realize how much pressure is on them."
Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy is one of the coaches who makes family a priority. He isn't one to sleep at the office. And yet he suffered a terrible tragedy when his son committee suicide in 2005.
In speaking with Dungy about the coaching life, he said spending time with family has to be more of a priority than it is. He relayed a story to me about an assistant coach that he knew who never saw his kid play a high school football game.
"I've heard that (type of thing)," Linehan said. "I wouldn't let it happen as a head coach. It's the assistant coach's fault for letting it happen. If it's important enough, you have to go."
During the season, most coaches work long into the night on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It tapers down to where they are home by 8 or so on Thursday and some teams get done by mid-afternoon on Friday.
For home games, the coaches have Saturday afternoon with the family and the night after games. For road games, both of those are usually out because of travel.
"You miss things because you're not around," Coughlin said. "When you are around, you try to make the most of it."
Coughlin and his staff sleep in the office on Tuesday nights.
"There comes a point where driving home doesn't make sense," Coughlin said.
Linehan never sleeps in the office -- he promised his wife he wouldn't. But since the coaches get home so late on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he has a special dinner for the coaches and their families at the facility on Tuesday nights.
"Otherwise, there are three days, sometimes four days, where you don't see your kids awake," Linehan said.
I've always theorized that the hours the coaches put in are as much for peer pressure as they are for getting the work done. When do these guys get to the point where the information doesn't sink in anymore?
You hear stories of coaches who stay at work when the work is done for aesthetic reasons. One coach told me he's witnessed other coaches playing solitaire on their computer just to kill time, so not to be perceived as a guy who doesn't work as hard.
"Don't mistake activity for achievement," Linehan said, borrowing a phrase from legendary basketball coach John Wooden. "That's the way you have to look at it. If your work is done, and you're organized and it gets done, you have to be with your family."
Linehan has another name for this syndrome.
"It's the 'The Cars in the Lot Theory,'" he said. "If the car's in the lot it means you're working. It doesn't mean you are."
Coaches have always worked long hours, but so do those in other professions. Some will bring up the traveling salesman who is on the road for a week or more at a time. What about his kids?
He can't be home with them. The coaches can. Their work is done in their hometown.
They need to go home more.
NFL coaches are copycats, so when Bill Parcells and his workaholic tree of coaches won games, it became chic to outwork the other guy. Jon Gruden and his maniacal ways won a Super Bowl, too.
Now that Dungy has won a ring, maybe the trend will reverse. That isn't to say Dungy doesn't work as hard. He just knows there are other things more important than football.
The reality is the most perceive NFL coaches as putting their teams ahead of their families. That's not fair to the families.
"That's unfortunate," Coughlin said.
"It's not easy to prove that it isn't the case," he said.
Maybe it takes tragedy like the death of Dungy's son and the problems of the Reid boys to change it.
You can't tell me that the work can't get done in less time. How many times do they need to watch a single play in the Red Zone? Or a package of blitzes?
Isn't the Pop Warner game or the daughter's lead in the school play far more important than how the right defensive end handles the double?
These coaches should realize that's the case, and maybe we can avoid more of these troubling family stories.