Balancing work, health is tough in NFL, Panthers coaches say

jjones@charlotteobserver.comNovember 4, 2013 

— Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott offered a brief moment of levity when asked how he balances the rigors of coaching in the NFL with a healthy lifestyle.

“I’ve already lost my hair,” McDermott, 39, said. “What’s next?”

After a weekend during which two NFL head coaches suffered scary episodes, members of the Panthers’ staff took a moment to consider their lifestyle choices Monday.

“It’s a hard work-life balance. It’s hard. You can overdo it easily,” McDermott said. “We’re all no different, we can all overdo it. When you love what you do, and you know what it takes to get the job done, it’s easy to overdo it. You try to find that fine line between that work-life balance.”

Former Panthers coach and current Denver Broncos coach John Fox felt light-headed this weekend while playing golf in Charlotte, and because of an existing heart condition, doctors requested he have surgery to replace an aortic valve. Broncos team vice president John Elway said the surgery Monday was successful and Fox, 58, is in recovery.

Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed at halftime of Sunday night’s Indianapolis game and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. According to an ESPN report, doctors are conducting tests to see if Kubiak, 52, suffered a stroke.

The health scares to his fellow NFL coaches had Panthers coach Ron Rivera taking stock in his own health – and noting he could stand to lose a few pounds.

“This is a tough position,” Rivera, 51, said. “It’s a tough job, but it’s all part of it. The thing you have to do is be mindful of your own health and personal well-being. You can’t worry about it, you just have to do the best you can to stay healthy.

“It’s tough, and you feel for those guys because they’re good people. We’ll have them in our thoughts and prayers.”

Coaches, like many professions, are known to put in more than 40 hours a week. McDermott said when he was a coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, he used to sleep at his office. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he knows he needs to eat healthier.

Rivera, a former Bears defensive coordinator, said that during Chicago’s Super Bowl run in 2006 he wouldn’t see his daughter awake on most weeks until Friday.

But all three coaches were quick to point out they aren’t the only ones with tough jobs.

“In all honesty, I coach a game,” said Rivera, who added that the Panthers, like many teams, require coaches to have yearly physicals. “I know it’s a very serious game, there’s a lot of money involved and a lot of other things. You’ve got people’s livelihoods and families riding on decisions you make, but at the same time, I know there are other people that are in far more stressful jobs than I am.”

Two weeks ago, when the Panthers were preparing for St. Louis, Rivera battled flu symptoms and missed Saturday’s walk-through practice. Following the Oct.24victory against Tampa Bay, the coach gave the team and his staff Sunday off.

The players again were off Monday, aligning with the team’s usual routine of giving the players the day off after a victory. Rivera said that allows players to rest and heal while giving the coaches a small reprieve.

“I learned to be effective when the players are in the building, that’s the most important thing,” McDermott said. “It’s not what I know. I can sit here and watch film all night. It’s what they know and what they can execute on Sundays. Like I expect them to be at their best on Sunday, I have to be my best also.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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