AL HAMNIK: NFL needs to make coaches' health a priority as well

2013-11-05T17:30:00Z 2014-06-14T14:37:06Z AL HAMNIK: NFL needs to make coaches' health a priority as wellAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 05, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

There are many high-risk jobs that pay well but are life-threatening.

Bomb squad. Trapeze performer. Alligator wrestler. Shark hunter. Al Qaeda mole.

Allow me to add another — National Football League head coach.

Who in their right mind would want to do that?

This season, as entertaining as it's been, has also had some red flags worth noting. The pressure to win is greater than ever and a warning should be stamped on coaches' foreheads: You are hired to be fired.

Denver's John Fox, 58, recently took a leave of absence to have heart-valve replacement surgery after complaining of dizziness while playing golf.

Houston's Gary Kubiak, 52, collapsed at halftime of Sunday night's Colts game and was released from the hospital Tuesday after being treated for a mild stroke.

A 2-6 record, coupled with fan and media grumbling, had many believing Kubiak would be fired before season's end. That will mess with anyone's blood pressure.

There are tales throughout the league of coaches who still sleep at the team's training facility, pouring their entire being into the job.

Blame legendary coach Vince Lombardi and his famous "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" proclamation.

Today's NFL coaches are under tremendous stress. They get little sleep, have poor diets and are constantly on the move.

Their only "off" days are if they're hospitalized.

The Bears cerebral Marc Trestman, an NFL head coach for the first time, arrives at Halas Hall by 4:30 a.m. most days, joined shortly after by staff members.

Coaches' salaries are ridiculously high, so pardon fans if they don't sympathize with their job demands. Only when it affects a coach's health, does the public respond with any compassion.

Colts' coach Chuck Pagano walked in those same shoes a year ago while battling leukemia. His long fight inspired the entire organization, united a city, and made Indianapolis the NFL's feel-good story of 2012.

"I reached out to Coach Fox when he had his (heart) episode, sent him a text and let him know we were thinking about him and keeping him in our thoughts and prayers," Pagano said at his weekly news teleconference Monday. "Same thing with Coach Kubiak.

"Hopefully, they get things taken care of and get their health back."

The smart ones heed those early warnings.

Bill Parcells retired because of serious heart problems after his Giants won Super Bowl XXV.

The Jets' Rex Ryan, a long-time comical figure, resorted to lap band surgery and lost 125 pounds. He found new energy, self respect and a more serious image.

"We're lucky. We're playing a kids' game. Our players are playing a kids' game," Pagano said. "But real life is real life and if you don't have your health, you really have nothing.

"I feel very fortunate, obviously, to have behind me what I went through. It's not easy. (You) die a thousand deaths out there. The game can be hard on you."

Pagano isn't immune to such pressure. His 6-2 Colts lead the AFC South and just two seasons after finishing 2-14, they are in the Super Bowl conversation.

Though concussions and player safety are the focal point of league officials, they need to make the health of their coaches a priority as well.

Before it's horribly too late.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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