Coaching can be hard on health

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As Ron Rivera broke down the Carolina Panthers' fourth straight win, the coach he replaced at Bank of America Stadium was in a hospital a few miles away recovering from a Monday morning procedure to replace a valve in his heart.

Halfway across the country in a Houston hospital, the head coach of the Houston Texans was undergoing tests after reportedly suffering a mini-stroke during Sunday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

They were harsh reminders of just how hard the coaching profession can be.

"This is a tough position,'' Rivera said 24 hours after the Panthers improved to 5-3 with a 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. "The thing you have to do is be mindful of your own health and personal well being.

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

Denver Broncos coach John Fox, whose trip to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2003 season highlighted his nine-year (2002-2010) stint with the Panthers, was hospitalized on Saturday. He became dizzy while playing golf near his Charlotte home while the Broncos enjoyed a bye weekend.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak fell to his knees with a grimacing look while leaving the field at halftime.

Was it the stress of competition, of 80-hour work weeks where sleep takes a back seat to film study and strategy? Was it a poor diet that often comes with grabbing food on the run between meetings?

Rivera admits he could lose a few pounds. He understands the long hours take their toll, recalling how in 2006 when he was the defensive coordinator at the Chicago Bears he spent so many hours working that he only saw his daughter awake on Fridays.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott understands as well. He used to sleep almost every night in the stadium while in Philadelphia.

"It's a hard work-life balance,'' McDermott said. "You can overdo it easily in this business. 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, that balance.''

But, as Rivera reminded, there are other professions just as demanding and stressful -- some more.

“In all honesty, I coach a game,” Rivera said. "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.”

The Panthers require all their coaches to undergo yearly physicals just as most if not every team in the league does. Coaches also have access to world-class workout facilities and dieticians.

"Yeah, we have a hot yoga studio,'' McDermott said with a laugh.

But in a more serious tone, McDermott acknowledged the importance of making time "for yourself.''

In reality, this is no joking matter. It's surprising what happened to Fox and Kubiak doesn't happen to more in this profession. It is, as McDermott said, "a great reminder for all of us that life is fragile.''

"As important as this is, you have to keep that balance,'' he added. "It's a great reminder for all of us.''