Their days of running through drills, taking a pounding up the middle and shedding blocks to get to the ball carrier may be over, but that doesn’t mean the stress on their bodies ends when a person goes from player to football coach.
With recent health scares to NFL head coaches Gary Kubiak and John Fox, most know the risks that come with the job.
But area high school coaches wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re so competitive by nature that we want to do everything right and you put in all of that work to make it go well that sometimes it wears on you,” Shoemaker coach Channon Hall said. “You’ve got to have that balance.”
Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke on the sidelines of a Houston Texans game Sunday while Fox passed out on a golf course in North Carolina during the Denver Broncos’ bye week and recently had open-heart surgery.
For Salado coach Brent Graham, the passion that got him into the game keeps him going despite the risks. “I think that if you’ve got a passion about it for sure. And I have a great amount of passion for what I do every day.”
Burning the midnight oil
For coaches, one of the biggest risk comes with the number of hours spent at the office.
Between morning meetings, watching film, game planning sessions, scouting reports and actual practice, it’s not unusual for high school coaches to work 12- to 14-hour days.
“The only down time you have is Saturday evenings, or late afternoons on Saturday and the same thing on Sunday,” Copperas Cove coach Jack Welch said.
For Hall, things don’t slow down once he gets off the field.
The father of four enjoys spending time with his children, who have sporting interests themselves, so Hall goes from the football field to watching his kids play.
“It lets you breathe a little bit and try to think about something else,” Hall said.
Florence coach Paul Smith finds a few moments of peace in the morning and before going to bed to give him perspective.
“I get up every morning, I read my Bible and I pray,” Smith said. “Every night I go to bed and I pray, and that’s where I get my stress relief from.”
Although these few minutes before a busy day may not seem like much, Smith said that reading the good book helps him get away from the game and reassures him that he can handle whatever challenge the day brings.
A team and a town on your back
Although every working American has a boss to answer to, in some communities, it feels like head football coaches have thousands.
Every week, fans, alumni, parents and armchair quarterbacks all over the state scrutinize and second guess coaching moves for at least 10 weeks every fall.
Welch said the limelight is always there for high school football in a state where the game is sacred, but as long as he’s running a good, clean program, the wins and losses will come.
“It’s just part of the job,” Welch said about stress. “These kind of jobs have that and you just have to accept it and know what it is, what it means. To me, it’s just part of the job.”
For the Players
Although Hall admits the stress to win and perform does exist on the job, it’s not to the extent that NFL and major college football coaches deal with.
For him, more important than championships and playoff wins is making sure his program produces quality Grey Wolves, who will become good members of society.
“We’re trying to build young men, so it’s a lot different than in the pros,” Hall said. “My job is to develop young men so they could be productive citizens, good husbands and good fathers to their kids.”
Coaches may grow up loving football and hungering for the competition, but there is one common thread that keeps most of the members of the state’s coaching fraternity going.
Championship banners and state title rings may be the ultimate physical reward, but the more important thing they leave behind is the impression on their players.
Passing on the Xs and Os and life lessons that they learned makes the stress and health risk worth it.
“Our industry is not probably as cut-throat as the college and professional levels, but ultimately, we’re all competitors and it definitely takes its tolls,” Graham said. “But I can tell you there’s a great reward in that, and that’s something that keeps you going. Seeing those kids every day, getting on the field everyday relieves that stress.”
Jordan Mason and Clay Whittington contributed to this report.