There is nothing in the playbook that could have prepared the Houston Texans or the Denver Broncos for this. What audible do you call when the head coach suffers a Transient Ischemic Attack — in layman’s terms, a stroke? That’s what happened to Texans coach Gary Kubiak Sunday.
Kubiak is a young 52 years old, an athlete and former NFL quarterback, who looks as if he’s in great shape, at least on the outside. If Rex Ryan or Andy Reid were felled by health problems we wouldn’t be surprised, but Gary Kubiak? Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but concerned. This is scary stuff.
Meanwhile, Broncos head coach John Fox is recovering from aortic heart valve replacement surgery. He is 58 years old. Doctors told Fox he was “a heart attack waiting to happen.” Still, he wanted to stay on the sidelines and wait until after the season.
Fox and Kubiak are just the latest example of health-related. Remember Dan Reeves? In 2009, Urban Meyer left Florida for unidentified health reasons. Jerry Kill is still battled a series of epileptic seizures before finally taking leave to focus on treatment. Mike Krzyzewski suffered from exhaustion and took a leave of absence.
NFL coaches work long hours. The stress level is enormous. The pressure to success is daunting. Personal health takes a back seat to winning games. Tony Dungy told the USA Today:
“In our profession, you’re afraid to take a day off. The tendency for us is that if you’re having some symptoms, it’s like, ‘I’ll wait until the bye.’ Maybe this is a wakeup call for all of us in the profession. If you have symptoms for something that might not feel normal, take the time and get checked out.”
Kubiak is struggling this season. The Texans are 2-6. It’s no surprise that he might be feeling stress and pressure which could have contributed to the stroke. Fox, on the other hand, is coaching a 7-1 Broncos team. You’d think, no pressure there, right? Wrong. He’s experiencing a different kind of pressure — expectation. When you’re expected to win there’s an entirely different level of pressure. Every time the team makes a mistake it’s scrutinized; Fox is put under the microscope. Expectation is a powerful force. Ask Nick Saban.
If Gary Kubiak is told to slow down and take it easy, he won’t know how. His team has a 6-game losing streak. The stress is excruciating. — John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) November 4, 2013
That’s a frightening thought, isn’t it? You’re barreling down the tracks at one thousand miles per hour and you don’t know how to stop or even slow down? If Kubiak, Kill, Reeves, Fox and others aren’t a red flag, I don’t know what is. Well, I do, but I am almost too afraid to write the words. Almost …
What’s more important: Winning or your life and family? More and more, today’s coaches are risking their lives to win ballgames. Stop it. When the doctor says slow down, listen. John Elway knows this all too well. His dad, a longtime football coach, died at age 69 because he was in poor health. He ignored the warning signs and kept coaching.
The experience taught his son a valuable lesson about sports:
“I’m going to speak for my dad. They (head coaches) don’t take very good care of themselves. So, the idea is to get them to take care of themselves. Not that anything with John or Gary resembles my dad. But I was always on my dad. They get so tied up with the football team and what they have to do for the team … the last person on the totem pole they take care of is themselves.”
Passion is a driving force, I get it. But if you’re not careful passion can turn into obsession. When that happens everything else — including your health — gets ignored. This is dangerous — potentially life-threatening for coaches. Let’s hope the wake-up call won’t come too late in sports.