While focus will soon shift to the playoffs, much of this week’s NFL news always centers around NFL coaches. The league has gone to great lengths in recent years to better protect its players. In many ways, that crusade has gone too far. However, when discussing the resignation of Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak with friends this week, an alarming statistic was brought to my attention and inspired this article.
Four of the 32 NFL head coaches who started the season were hospitalized at some point during the season. Think about that for a second. If any other job had 1/8 of its employees hospitalized within a four-month span, it would be all over the news as one of the most dangerous jobs in America. However, because America loves the NFL and there are only 32 head coaching jobs to go around, few people think of it in that way.
The specifics of each health situation are no one else’s business, but it is worrisome if you dig a bit deeper. The average age of the four coaches hospitalized this year is just 58. In Kubiak’s case, it was his second health scare earlier this year that served as the catalyst for his retirement from coaching at just 55. I think we would all like to have a relatively clean bill of health and lots of life left to live in our 50s and early 60s.
Sadly, this is becoming less and less the case when it comes to NFL head coaches. Along with the health scares of Kubiak, Mike Zimmer, Bruce Arians, and Todd Bowles, Bears coach Jon Fox has also missed time over the years because of health.
2016 also saw the sudden loss of former longtime Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green. Green died of a heart attack at just 67. The numbers do not lie. The health of current and former NFL coaches is slowly becoming a real problem.
While the high-pressure job of being an NFL head coach certainly is not the sole cause of any health issue, you do not need to be a doctor to arrive at the conclusion that it is very likely a contributing factor.
I am by no means an NFL insider, but I follow the league as closely as anyone. The pressure these coaches are under is gigantic. All 32 teams have rabid fan bases and snarky media that call for a coaching change, sometimes after almost every loss.
The job becomes even more challenging when one considers things like endless travel, occasionally unrealistic expectations of ownership, trying to maintain a family life, the amount of money involved in the modern NFL, and 31 other teams that want to win it all just as badly. While no one’s life is on the line, it has to be a real pressure cooker to say the least.
Some casual fans out there might wonder why a coach does not simply just leave the office or “take a break” when it all becomes too much. The answer is simple. First, that is simply not the way NFL head coaches are wired. Second, I assure you that for every minute a coach does not spend in his office, there’s another one that is in his hopped up on coffee at 3 AM preparing for battle. That is simply the nature of the beast.
I am not sure what can be done to combat this issue, but I certainly hope that Roger Goodell and his staff start looking into it. I came up with two suggestions. The current collective bargaining agreement severely limits the amount of live practices a team can have over the course of a season. This is certainly well-intentioned, but it has hurt the quality of the on-field NFL product in a big way.
It is reasonable to speculate that it also may be hurting the coaches. Less live practice means more time spent in a classroom style setting looking at film, teaching, and instructing. Any current or former student of anything can attest to just how sedentary this lifestyle can be. It certainly is not a healthy one. While it will never happen because the league is terrified of more serious injuries and lawsuits, a return to more live practices would actually be beneficial for all parties. Meaning, the fans, players, and coaches.
Another possible remedy could be to have an unaffiliated medical professional travel with each team solely for the purpose of checking on the welfare and health of the coaching staff. The rationale behind this is similar to that of the unaffiliated neurologist that assesses players for concussions and is the sole judge as to whether a player can return to a game.
The reality is the coaches grind and compete just as hard as the players. They need to be saved from themselves too. Again, I am not on the inside. For all I know, something like this may already exist, but I doubt it.
We all love football and the teams we support. Sometimes, it is easy to forget there is more to life. Thus, the next time you call for your team to fire its head coach, realize how hard their job is. The coaches are working as hard as we fans are rooting. A coach may lose games and get fired, but the issue is never a lack of effort.
“From Our Haus to Yours”