CHARLOTTE — Four basketball seasons ago, Brian Gregory says he was feeling good about his Dayton Flyers mens basketball program. They finished off a 27-win season by advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Gregory says he was not feeling so good about himself, more specifically about his health.
All these great things were happening in the program, and at the end of the year I felt like crap because I didnt work out one time the entire year, says Gregory, now the second-year coach at Georgia Tech. I said, I cant do that. Im 41 years old at the time, and Im not going to make it to 50 if I keep doing this.
Gregory made a greater commitment that offseason to better physical fitness. He is 45 today, stands 5-foot-9 and weighs a healthy 160 pounds. It is the same weight he carried as a 22-year-old point guard at Oakland (Mich.) University, and he just might be in better condition today. His P90X workout routine goes daily for 60 to 70 minutes.
While the daily workout of other ACC coaches might not be as rigorous as Gregorys, there does seem to be more heightened awareness to physical well-being around the league in the wake of North Carolina coach Roy Williams recent cancer scare.
It is no secret that the stresses associated with coaching college basketball at the highest level are enormous. Days routinely stretch from sunrise to past midnight. Sleep is treasured. Eating habits often become fast food on the fly. Exercise can be reduced to handling the replay button during film study.
Yet it appears ACC coaches, across the board, are conscious of the importance of physical fitness in handling stress. Long gone are the days when Georgia Tech coach Dwane Morrison and others smoked cigarettes on the sideline or when a woefully overweight coach rested his practice whistle on his pot belly.
You better be (health conscious). You better be sharp, says Dukes Mike Krzyzewski. In any leadership position, having a clear mind and good health helps you in that respect.
Krzyzewski, at age 65, is among the leagues old guard along with the Florida States Leonard Hamilton, who is 64, Miamis Jim Larranaga, who is 63, and Williams, 62. Krzyzewski has dealt with back issues, nerve damage in his leg and two hip replacements. Larranaga also has had both hips replaced.
Williams had surgery during mid-September to remove tumors from both his kidneys. Not surprisingly, Williams immediately received well-wishes from every head coach in the league. When the coaches gathered recently at ESPN studios in Charlotte, Krzyzewski made a point to pull Williams aside.
In his case, he has to be really careful during this first month or so not to push the envelope, Krzyzewski says. Mine was the back. It wasnt cancer. It almost destroyed my career and destroyed our program. It can be that fragile.
This fragility was apparent when Maryland coach Bob Wade collapsed of exhaustion shortly after his Terps victory against N.C. State in the first round of the 1989 ACC tournament, and even more so when a 2007 heart attack claimed the life of Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser at age 56.
It woke us all up a little bit, says Clemson coach Brad Brownell, 44.
Brownell likely is typical of the younger group of ACC coaches. He loves to jog outdoors two or three days a week and works through Clemsons strength coaches to get in 30 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular and weight-lifting exercises indoors three days a week.
Brownell admits the exercise routine often drops off considerably during the season when he is more apt to consume late-night pizza or chips and snacks while watching videotape. His weakness is soft drinks, sometimes three or more a day for the jolt he gets from a Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper.
It doesnt lend itself to good health, Brownell says. Youve got to be extremely disciplined.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett, 43, has taken up tennis during the offseason, while using Ab-Ripper X and P90X exercise routines during the season. Boston College coach Steve Donahue, 50, says there is no excuse for coaches to not stay in shape. They have weight rooms, personal trainers and exercise facilities available. Donahue says his one-hour daily workout before practice is as much for his mental well-being as physical fitness.
If you take an hour out of your day to work out, the next five hours are way more productive than they would have if you didnt work out, Donahue says. So, youre actually getting that hour back, and some.
Donahue also stresses to his staff the importance of working out and eating healthy. When Izzy Metz joined the staff a season ago, Donahue believed his new assistant had gotten out of shape when he was the head coach at Hobart College. Metz since has lost 32 pounds.
Virginia Techs James Johnson, the youngest head coach in the league at 41, says he is most concerned about diet and fitness because diabetes runs in his family, affecting both his parents and two of his brothers.
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik, 59, had a thorough physical examination and stress test included in his contract for each of the seven years he was an assistant on the Miami Heat staff of Pat Riley. Then as coach of the Denver Nuggets, Bzdelik was introduced to a different form of physical fitness.
I dont run. I dont lift weights. I dont swim. I dont bike. I very seldom walk, Bzdelik says. Youre going to laugh at what I do. I do yoga maybe five to six times a week.
Bzdelik says health is wealth in the coaching profession. He is an extremely fit 5-11 and 162 pounds, and on occasion employs a yoga instructor for his team.
N.C. States Mark Gottfried, 48, lifts weights and works out on an Elliptical machine daily. He is in sound enough shape to be carried by zip-line recently for his arrival at the Wolfpacks opening night of practice.
Finally, Florida States Hamilton is only joking when he says his road to good health is paved by great genes, having recently visited his 98-year-old mother in Gastonia. When he finishes laughing, Hamilton tells of the in-season eating habits of his coaching staff. This season they will consume raw vegetables, baked or broiled fish, turkey, and no fried foods, bread or red meats.