By Ernie Palladino
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The doctors probably told John Fox and Gary Kubiak the same thing at one time or another.
“Take the stress out of your lives.”
Uh-huh. Got it.
Forget that they’re both professional football coaches, a profession which, in the sporting world, offers the very definition of stress. The long hours, the constant organizational fires that need extinguishing, the pressures to win and the consequences of losing, and just managing a locker room full of players can really get to a guy. Just think about what Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin feels inside as he deals with the Richie Incognito bullying situation right now.
The fact is, one doesn’t have to be a football coach to feel stress. And the aortic valve issue that felled Fox on a North Carolina golf course during the Broncos’ bye week and the minor stroke the Texans’ Kubiak suffered on the halftime sidelines Sunday are not uncommon issues among the general population.
Yet, given the demands of pro football and the millions of dollars that magnify these coaches, is it any wonder that Fox and Kubiak went down? Or conversely, isn’t it odd that more coaches haven’t been laid low by stress-related conditions?
Although there is no telling whether the job contributed to Fox’s and Kubiak’s problems, it’s not a big leap to that conclusion. Ask any Wall Street trader who makes and loses a fortune every day about his blood pressure. Ask any financially-strapped person with a couple of kids heading for college — your average American, by the way — about the headaches that grow into migraines on a daily basis.
None of that is conducive to healthy living. And yet, that’s part of life. We sign up for that stuff when we get married, when we start a career, when we walk beyond the walls of our homes into that big, bad world.
After we do that, we deal with it the best we can. But sometimes, it’s not enough and bad things happen, and people wind up in emergency rooms.
As we saw with Fox and Kubiak, one doesn’t have to be up there in age, either. Both coaches are in their 50s, and considerably younger than, say, Tom Coughlin, who is the oldest coach in the NFL. Despite 67 years of living in general and marshalling his own teams every year but one since 1994 in Jacksonville, he has come out of this healthy and unscathed. Not even Bill Parcells could say that. He had to leave the Giants after the 1990 Super Bowl because of a bad health report.
But Coughlin continues to tick on. Is it because of the 5 a.m. routine where, he claims, he will outwork all comers? Or is he simply, hereditarily immune to the rigors of the job?
Either way, he said the other day that he won’t let Fox’s and Kubiak’s fates impede his own behavior.
But it’s not like the thought of slowing down hasn’t crossed his mind. Briefly, perhaps. But it still existed.
“I worry about it,” he said. “But when you sign up for (the job), it kind of goes along with it unless somehow the competitive aspect of the game changes. It’s just as much that as it is anything else.
“It’s all about the grinding away, the competitive part of this thing. It’s what the individuals are made of that are at this level.”
Coughlin, an exacting man known to plan his day in five-minute blocks, has no designs on retiring to his Jacksonville beach house. As long as the Giants want him, he’ll stick around, happily putting in the mountain of hours that every other coach in the league puts in. Except for the national publicity he draws, the stress is no different from the man of limited means who is providing every night for his family.
We are all under stress. It’s part of living in a competitive, capitalist society. It is part of human interaction.
Some of us never succumb to it. But sometimes, even the strongest-willed of us, the ones who face it and accept it as part of our normal state of being, buckle under it.
The only way for any of us to avoid that is to follow the doctor’s orders: Remove stress from life’s equation.
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