The hours are brutal, and so are the expectations of millions who sit in judgment of what you do on Sunday afternoon.
Being a coach in the NFL isn’t necessarily an automatic ticket to the emergency room. But the hospitalization of two coaches on one midseason weekend_ one after collapsing on primetime television _ is a scary reminder that the unrelenting pressure of trying to win football games week after week can be a dangerous thing.
“Football sure is stressful and coaching is a stressful occupation _ just like a lot of people’s jobs are stressful,” said Dan Reeves, who underwent heart surgery while coaching the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. “But it’s such a time-consuming job that you don’t really take care of yourself the way you should, and it’s easy to have those things happen.”
And like Fox he ended up in the hospital while his team played without him.
“Good thing I finally said something to a doctor,” Reeves said, “or I could have had a heart attack.”
Fox underwent aortic valve replacement surgery Monday, two days after feeling dizzy while playing golf near his offseason home in North Carolina. Predictably, the team issued a statement quoting the coach as saying he was disappointed to have to leave the team and looked forward to returning to the sidelines as soon as possible.
Not so predictable is the future of Gary Kubiak, who collapsed while walking off the field at halftime Sunday night in a game his team would go on to lose in his absence. Though the Texans issued a statement saying Kubiak was alert and in good spirits, he will remain in a Houston hospital at least through Tuesday while doctors run tests to find out what caused him to go down.
They’re coaches of two teams going in different directions, with one thing in common: Both are suddenly powerless to do anything about it.
“It’ll be tough on them, sitting there and thinking they can’t do what they are supposed to do, that your job is to help your team,” former coach Tony Dungy said. “You really feel that: `I can’t help my team.’”
The timing of the hospitalizations just a day apart was coincidental, though still a bit unsettling to the rest of the coaching fraternity. Kubiak’s collapse came after a rare good half of football this season for the Texans, while Fox was enjoying a bye week in a season where the Broncos have done nothing to diminish expectations that they will be in the Super Bowl.
Both make millions coaching in the NFL, but the job comes at a price and with the understanding that winning is the only thing.
“There is a lot of pressure on head coaches,” Broncos executive John Elway said. “I think especially with the size of this game and the growth of this game, the expectation levels have continued to grow. So that’s a tough, tough spot.”
Elway said he called Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson on Sunday to see how the Colts managed last year, when coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and hospitalized. Pagano had been experiencing extreme fatigue and bruising but, like Fox, waited until the team’s bye week to be checked out by a doctor.
Pagano would return for the last regular-season game, and the Broncos are already preparing for the eventual return of Fox.