STATESMAN IN-DEPTH COLLEGE FOOTBALL

BIG-TIME STRESS

Poll of coaches across nation reveals depth of job pressure and how they try to cope.

By Kirk Bohls & Ryan Autullo kbohls@statesman.com & rautullo@statesman.com

Spring drills were over. The final intrasquad game in April 2013 was in the books, and Dan Mc-Carney finally went in for a simple angiogram for chest pains as he’d promised his wife. When the North Texas football coach awoke from the procedure, he saw a look of concern on her face. “She looked like somebody shot both of our dogs,” McCarney said. “She told me, ‘You have four blocked arteries. They’re 95 percent blocked.’” Surgery wasn’t elective. It was mandatory. And within 48 hours, McCarney was on an operating table undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery. That he was in good health and had run the 140 stadium steps in North Texas’ Apogee Stadium end zone each day helped.

Did the 60-year-old McCarney take off the rest of the spring and summer to recover and recharge?

“I was back in the office in five days,” he said almost apologetically.

As a totally driven football coach obsessed with doing the job right,

McCarney remains more the rule than the exception in his profession.

Results from an American-Statesman survey of college head coaches across the country revealed that at least among the 40 who participated, most coaches are burning the candle at both ends and everywhere in between:

• The average age of the coaches who participated in the survey: 52.

• As many as 22 of the 40 coaches said they sleep five hours or less every night.

• Many of them put in excessive hours, including as many as 18 hours a day in the case of Hawaii coach Norm Chow, who checks in to work as early as 4 in the morning and sometimes doesn’t leave until 10 at night. Paul Chryst, expected to be the new head coach at Wisconsin, was right behind him at Pittsburgh, putting in 17-hour days.

• At least 20 coaches told the Statesman that they work up to 15 hours a day at least one day a week. Nearly every coach said it’s impossible, or at least very difficult, to succeed by working eight-hour days.

• How coaches handle Sundays varies greatly. Five coaches who responded start their Sundays at 7 a.m. or earlier, and seven don’t arrive at the office until 1 p.m. or later, usually after church.

• No coach admitted to smoking, but three use chewing tobacco or snuff. Thirty said they do receive yearly physicals.

Chow, whose children are grown and whose wife lives in Los Angeles, is among four coaches who admitted to sometimes sleeping overnight in their offices. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, who is not married, does it two or three nights a week.

“You’re wanting to do well for these young people,” said Chow, 68. “There’s so much information. Football overdoes the information.”

At the other extreme, one coach from a non-Power Five school who did not want to be identified said he leaves work at 5 p.m. most days. And South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, 69, gets his job done in economic fashion but dispelled a popular myth and said he doesn’t play golf during the season.

“If it’s overly stressful, I shouldn’t be doing it,” Spurrier told the Statesman. “And we had two straight overtime games this year.”

Most coaches have their outlets — and their snacks — to help them through the day. Chryst pours down any number of Mountain Dews and chews tobacco.

Bill Blankenship, who was let go this month after four seasons at Tulsa, started his mornings with a 1-liter bottle of Diet Mountain Dew, and the 57-year-old would have another six or so Dews throughout the day. He even kept a bottle on ice next to his bed.

The breakfast of champions for Alabama’s Nick Saban? Two Little Debbie oatmeal creme pies.

Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre pounds energy shakes. Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson sneaks an occasional Kit-Kat, but generally eschews sweets for tuna or trail mix.

Coffee consumption ranged from the 21 coaches who refrain from it to Temple’s Matt Rhule, who downs seven or eight cups a day.

The year before his quadruple heart bypass surgery, Mc-Carney had suffered a stroke as he was eating a sandwich. The entire left side of his body went numb. He recovered fully and has watched his health. He reduced his intake of Cokes — he used to drink them religiously — to about one a month. He has always loved vegetables. Only one other coach, Temple’s Rhule, who has high blood pressure, admitted to a stress-related health issue.

McCarney worked for Urban Meyer at Florida, where Meyer announced his resignation in 2009 for health reasons but changed his mind and then left for good after the 2010 season, citing family reasons. He took the Ohio State job in 2012.

“It was one of the most amazing runs in the history of college football,” McCarney said of the Gators’ 30-2 mark that covered parts of three seasons. “Did he have dark circles and look tired? No question, but none of us saw that he might quit. When Urban came into a staff meeting and said he was stepping down, we were shocked.”

Art Markman, a University of Texas professor with a doctorate in psychology, says stress and lack of sleep can impair decision-making.

“When you don’t sleep enough, that erodes some of the capacity you have for calming yourself down,” said Markman, who runs a program to work with businesspeople and others in leadership roles. “You’ll get a little more emotional and irritable, and frankly you don’t think as clearly. You’re prone to making more mistakes, which feeds on itself.”

McCarney believes the stress level in coaching has risen because of the exorbitant salaries coaches are getting and the vast outlets fans have to voice their opinions. According to USA Today, 51 of 128 FBS coaches make at least $2 million this year. In 2006, there were 10 $2 million coaches.

“It’s self-imposed, and obviously you want to win and want to be successful, no doubt, knowing that the world watches everything you do now,” Mc-Carney said. “Who are we kidding? Not everybody thinks he can be a banker or a Realtor or a doctor or a lawyer, but everybody thinks they can coach. Everybody in the stands does.”

Unable to shut off his brain, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, 49, says he struggles to fall asleep.

“You’re constantly thinking of things at night,” said Niumatalolo, who will take Navy to a bowl game for the seventh time in his eight seasons. “How can you recruit better? What are some red-zone things we can do better? Our facilities aren’t good enough. What sports drinks should we be drinking? There’s a plethora of things that eat at you.”

Stress is all relative, says Virginia’s Mike London, a former Richmond police officer who once had a gun pointed at his face by a man who had robbed a store. Had the gun gone off as the robber intended, London said, he would likely be dead. Comparatively, calling a play on third-and-7 is relaxing.

“When I say relative pressure, it is just that,” said London, 54. “One is a finality, the other you get to live to see another day.”

By and large, coaches willingly put up with the demands of their jobs.

“You know why?” Spurrier said. “The pay’s too good. Nobody wants to retire and give that up.”

That includes Spurrier, who at 69 said this month he would return next season and told the Statesman he’d be good for “two to four more years, depending on how it goes.”

Spurrier joked that he slept a solid seven hours two nights after South Carolina’s regular-season finale, the first time he’d slept that much in about six weeks. He said a doctor has prescribed him medication to help him sleep and “help my mind slow down” during the season.

Likewise, McCarney said he’s been taking a single Tylenol PM before bedtime for years. He said he never takes naps and can’t sleep on planes.

In 2006, then first-year Colorado coach Dan Hawkins responded to a three-overtime loss to Baylor by living in his office the next three days. Colorado, winless in its first six games, went out that week and clobbered Texas Tech.

Markman said coaches would be wise to take small breaks, listen to their favorite music, get a massage or just practice some deep-breathing exercises. “They don’t have to play three hours of golf.”

Working out regularly and eating responsibly are the most popular stress-relievers for coaches, although almost all of them admit they snack — many of them on healthy items like nuts and fruit — and don’t get enough sleep.

On average, coaches practice what they preach when it comes to fitness.

Of those who responded to the survey, 27 work out four times or more a week, including Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who plays pickup basketball with his assistants. Saban does as well in the offseason. BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall, who completed a marathon last summer, carves out two hours a day to read and exercise.

Coach Charlie Strong routinely runs five miles around Texas’ campus at 4 or 5 a.m. to organize his thoughts. Niumatalolo challenges graduate assistants to tennis. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald works out six days a week, including Saturdays, when he figures he covers several miles pacing the sideline at games. Washington State’s Mike Leach walks seven miles round-trip to and from work. Six coaches said they do not work out at all.

Most coaches try to incorporate as much family time as they can into their week. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops — whose physically fit father, a high school coach, had about 2 percent body fat but died of a massive heart attack on the sidelines of a game — implemented family dinners into his staff’s regular schedules. So does Spurrier. Coaches’ wives and children congregate at the football complex for a dinner, and Spurrier said the presence of nine of his 12 grandchildren in the Columbia area also is a good salve for frustrations.

“We’ll have the football secretaries and trainers,” he said. “It’s a pretty good crowd.”

Strong tries to make all of his daughters’ volleyball matches. At BYU, Mendenhall takes off Sundays and spends them with his family.

Fitzgerald FaceTimes with his children twice a day, wishing them good morning and good night. He locks up the Wildcats’ football facility at 5 p.m. on Thursdays so his coaches can have real face time with their families.

Of course, winning remains the biggest antidote to stress. As Spurrier said, there really wasn’t much stress during his dozen years at Florida.

“Not only were we winning, we’d win big nine of 12 games every year,” he said. “So many games, we clobbered the other guy. It’d be the fourth quarter. We’d empty the bench, everybody would be laughing and giggling, and everybody got to play. We’ve even played our scout team. Now (with South Carolina), every game is close and down to the wire.”

Paul Rhoads just wishes more games were that close; his Iowa State team limped in at 2-10. He appears to have a good grasp on priorities although he said he has “never had a workout regimen.” He used to walk in a housing development near the football complex at noon, but found that’s when most of his players wanted to stop by his office.

He has joined his wife, Vickie, in a new diet that excludes most gluten foods and sweets like cookies and pies, although he still craves the occasional hoagie sandwich. He has shed about 20 pounds since March.

Rhoads, 47, credits his offensive coordinator, Mark Mangino, with a philosophy conducive to handling stress.

“He’s always said they can fire us, but they can’t kill us or take away our children,” Rhoads said of Mangino, the former Kansas head coach. “And (former Pittsburgh head coach) Dave Wannstedt handled it well. His philosophy on defense was, ‘You can’t stop everything.’ So he’d get out of the office and say he was gonna go break a sweat.”

And how does Rhoads generally cope with stress?

“I’m one of those idiots who works more,” he said, laughing.

Contact Kirk Bohls at 512-445-3772.

Twitter: @kbohls Contact Ryan

Autullo at 512-445-3958.Twitter: @ autulloAAS