James Taylor, candy and a stand-up desk: How Redskins coaches combat the grind

Wes Phillips' stand-up desk keeps his attention sharp as the hours pile on. Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- The lifestyle became a badge of honor, one that Randy Jordan, then an Oakland Raiders assistant coach, wore with pride. Three days into his new gig, however, he realized he was on a pace he could not survive.

Jordan, now the Washington Redskins running backs coach, would arrive no later than 6 a.m. He’d stay until 1:30 a.m. or later. Then he'd repeat it the next day.

"I'll never forget my first three days. I thought I was going to die. I wasn't used to it," Jordan said. "The first three days I was good, and then on the fourth day, I hit a wall and physically got sick."

He was ordered to stay home and had to find a new way to survive. That didn't mean he abandoned the insane hours completely. The days are long. But coaches aren't superhuman, which means they must discover tricks that help them get through the day, especially as the season winds down and the grind takes a toll. As they watch hours of film, sometimes the eyes get droopy.

They resort to tricks used by drivers to stay awake.

"Just not as dangerous," Redskins tight ends coach Wes Phillips said.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden's day starts around 4:45 a.m. and lasts until nearly 9 p.m. He does his film work early because as the day wears on, many visitors enter his office: players, president Bruce Allen, vice president of football operations Doug Williams. But in those quiet moments later in the day, sometimes staying awake becomes difficult -- for Gruden and others.

"That happens a lot," Gruden said of guys nodding off. "When you stay still for so long and when you're in your office with just your remote control for hours at a time."

Here's how coaches survive those difficult periods during the day:

James Taylor

Mondays test all coaches, win or lose, but Mondays after losses can be particularly draining. Jordan arrives around 7 a.m. after perhaps four hours of sleep.

"If I do get six or seven hours, I feel tired," he said. "Your body gets used to a lack of sleep, which isn't good for you."

He grades film and meets with the staff around 1 p.m. to watch more film. Then they gather to discuss personnel. Around 3:30 p.m., he moves on to the next opponent. At night, Jordan will watch the opponent's previous two games to get a feel for how the team calls defenses and focuses on short yardage and goal-line situations. He'll check out what a defense does on first and second down and what personnel groupings they use in various situations. He'll jot down running plays to recommend to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who's in charge of the run game.

Jordan said he usually has a game going on ESPN, with the sound down, and will slip on headphones. Drake and James Taylor then get him through the lull.

"I'm a big James Taylor fan, one of the best songwriters ever," Jordan said. "Of course, 'In my mind I'm going to Carolina. Can't you see the Sunshine?' Sweet Baby James. I'm listening to all his stuff, and I'm banging out tape. I'm lit up. Sometimes it gets that way. You get four or five songs in you, and you're just like, 'Bang, oh, got that done.'"

Stand-up desk

The struggle is real for Phillips, especially on Tuesdays. He arrives at 6 a.m. and leaves around midnight. To prepare for an opponent, he watches five games and breaks them down, looking at defensive schemes and whittling it down to techniques used by certain players. He occasionally works on red zone film.

"Sometimes you get into that film mode where you're watching, and then all of a sudden, you're three or four plays farther down than you thought you were," Phillips said, "and then you snap out of it."

One solution: a stand-up desk. Three years ago, Phillips purchased one for his office for health reasons. There are other ways he tries to maintain energy -- walks, breaks in the cafeteria -- but when he knows he must grind in the office, the desk helps.

"We're in the office a lot and sitting," he said. "I find I have more energy when I stand. You can stretch a little bit."

He uses a slant board at times so he can stretch his calf muscles, or he uses a ball to roll under his feet while standing.

"All that sitting you do, and posture-wise, you get crunched over," Phillips said, "and it doesn't feel good."

Sour Patch Kids

The week before the Thanksgiving Day game against the New York Giants was particularly bad for Washington's defensive quality-control coach, Cannon Matthews. He spent a couple hours in the office after arriving back from New Orleans the Sunday before. The next day, he was there from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Tuesday, it was from 7 a.m. until midnight.

"You're like a zombie watching enough film to where your eyes are crisscrossing," he said. "When you hit 5 o'clock, you have to get your second wind."

His two go-to options: get up and walk around, or dig into his bag of Sour Patch Kids. Sometimes he'll drink a Diet Dr. Pepper, but for the most part, the Kids win.

"Anytime I feel myself lagging, I keep a bag of those in my desk drawer," he said.

His favorite color? Red.

"But the blue is creeping up there,” he said.

The amazing part? He has had one cavity in his life.


One coach didn't want to divulge his biggest secret: He'll sometimes dip chewing tobacco to help stay sharp and awake. He started doing it in college.

"Meetings were so long," he said. "That was the only thing that kept me awake."

Others do it as well.

"I've been trying to quit that for a long time, but that definitely helps for whatever reason," Phillips said, "whether psychologically helping you stay awake or just the act of doing something: chewing gum, spitting."


Redskins secondary coach Torrian Gray works out on a daily basis, sometimes before his day gets started and other times at lunch.

"That probably makes me more fatigued [later]," Gray said. "But you never think about the fatigue. You know you're tired, but you don't think about it because we're trying to find the riddle to the puzzle of the week. It's not what we know. It's what we get the players to know and to understand. Then we have to put it in organized fashion."

Gray's solution to sustain his energy and combat any drowsiness is a favorite of many coaches: Diet Coke. Coffee is clearly another favorite; Phillips has a machine in his office. After opening a soda, Gray will slip on headphones, listen to either country music or rap and get to work.

"Tons of Diet Coke," he said. "I probably overdo it -- five or six a day. That's me cutting it back. ... But I kind of embrace the grind, so it was never a problem. I never had a problem grinding and working hard. That's my personality."

Eating right also plays a factor. Jordan said he tries to avoid snacks, though he'll grab some trail mix in the cafeteria or some peanuts from Gray's office.

"I try to load up on Vitamin C, take supplements," Jordan said. "But it's part of the process. You just grind through it."