Published November 06, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The recent health problems of two different high-profile NFL coaches may finally shine a spotlight on one of the NFL's more uneventful but perplexing problems.
The fact that most of the league's coaches have 80-plus-hour work weeks and often sleep on office couches may be under-the-radar stuff for most fans who care about little, save winning the Lombardi Trophy. And that's understandable, after all it's a silly problem with its roots firmly planted in ego.
Silly got serious over the weekend, though.
On Saturday, Denver Broncos coach John Fox felt dizzy playing golf near his offseason home in Charlotte and was taken to a local hospital, where tests revealed a planned aortic valve replacement surgery couldn't wait any longer.
A day later, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed while running off the field and into the locker room before halftime. Tuesday, the Texans confirmed that Kubiak suffered a transient ischemic attack, often described as a mini- stroke.
It's tough to draw a straight line and declare the workload NFL coaches currently have is a direct causal effect in these two specific instances, but it's not all that hard to say it helped exacerbate any underlying concerns.
The same can be said of Andy Reid's family issues in Philadelphia, the heartbreaking tragedy Tony Dungy suffered while in Indianapolis when his son committed suicide, and the reports of significant alcohol abuse among certain higher-ups in the league.
So, why are coaches putting themselves through the ringer?
"The effort versus reward says that the amount of reward -- things like salary and fame -- needs to meet the workload," Dr. Ben Wedro, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin who educates frequently on sports medicine, told The Sports Network. "There are only 32 of these jobs and the competition is intense."
To be fair, Fox's surgery was more of a "mechanical issue," according to Wedro and not a result of overwork or stress, but the other examples cited are rather obvious examples of how the lifestyle has become unhealthy.
In the word of professional sports, football is calculus.
A double-switch is considered heady stuff in baseball, where it's all about capturing that killer tan in the spring. Coaching hoops is less about Xs and Os these days and more about managing personalities, while it's up to the puck heads out there to explain what hockey coaches actually do because most of us are still trying to figure that one out.
"The job of (an NFL) head coach is interesting because you are the boss and that should mean less stress, but it's a job that lacks real functional control, especially when there is a lack of success," Wedro continued. "You have complete control and also none at all.
"You may make decisions on players and practice schedules but you know you're being second-guessed at every turn. It's also understanding that assistant coaches and coordinators want your job. You work really hard but when the success isn't there, you have less and less control, and that means more stress."
And in turn, more health problems.
NFL coaches from this generation wear their work ethic on their sleeves like a badge of honor and look down at members of the fraternity who have the gall to feel a more well-rounded lifestyle might actually contribute to more success, personal happiness and longevity.
Owners have picked up on that disdain and have made it almost mandatory for coaches to be on call 24-7.
"We can talk about things like life expectancy and quality of life, but you have to let them figure out how to balance or change things," Wedro said when asked how he would handle a patient with unhealthy work habits. "Some people need to work 80 hours a week because their job or lifestyle demands it. You can't just tell someone to stop."
That means the culture of the NFL has to change.
Mentors from the past might snicker at all of this. No matter how much you respect Fox or Kubiak, two rock-solid coaches, neither is ever going to be compared with legends like Lombardi, Shula and Noll, coaches who weren't expected to subscribe to the current model of doing things.
Some may say it isn't fair to compare each era and that's probably true, so let's go back to the more recent past and look at a coach who didn't buy in to all the hype, Barry Switzer.
Few will want to compare Switzer to guys like Fox and Kubiak, at least at this level, but Barry, despite his questionable work ethic, has the Super Bowl ring both Fox and Kubiak are still chasing.
Preparation is very important in the NFL and when it melds with talent, that's when you get something special. That said, talent always trumps coaching and that's tough for any megalomaniac to accept.
Surely, if a coach spent a few more hours watching the film, he would be able to expose a lightweight in the ranks, the type of a guy on his third gin and tonic when one of the new breed figured out that the right tackle was opening- up his stance and telegraphing each play during his 27th viewing of the all-22.
Ecstatic and validated, the exhausted coach would gleefully tell his important defensive players about his find and then watch his "genius" evaporate on Sunday when the real bullets were flying.
In Switzer's case, he had Erik Williams and no matter the technique problem, Williams was going to whip the guy opposite him far more often than not.
There is only so much a coach can do and if we are all being truthful, any of these hard-workers could probably accomplish what they are currently achieving in far less time.
There are federal laws that limit the amount of time airline pilots, truck drivers and doctors work for healthy and safety reasons. Common sense should limit the hours NFL coaches like Fox and Kubiak spend on the job.
It would certainly fix more than a few broken marriages or relationships, and it might even save some lives.
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Week 10
Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (1-7), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
LINE: Redskins by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: It's probably not fair to call Leslie Frazier crazy, but if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, let's just say the embattled Minnesota Vikings mentor could be indicted for erratic behavior.
Frazier, already the author of a franchise-worst 3-13 season in 2011, is well on his way to lowering that bar even further as he leads a banged-up and disgruntled group of Vikings against the disappointing-but-still-in-the-mix Washington Redskins on "Thursday Night Football."
The Vikings fell to a dismal 1-7 last Sunday, losing for the third time in the final minute when Dwayne Harris' 7-yard touchdown catch from Tony Romo with 35 seconds to play lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 27-23 win.
Despite a rocky first half of their own, the Redskins are only one game back in the loss column in the weak NFC East after outlasting San Diego, 30-24, in overtime at FedEx Field last Sunday when Darrel Young's third touchdown run of the day served as the game-winner.
Robert Griffin III ran for a career-high 138 yards, including a 76-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, when Washington beat the Vikings, 38-26, in 2012.
PREDICTION: Redskins 30, Vikings 17
Seattle (8-1) at Atlanta (2-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 6
THE SKINNY: The rematch of last season's exciting divisional playoff game in which Atlanta hung on to win, 30-28, has lost a little of its luster.
Seattle has held up its end of the bargain and comes in at 8-1 for the first time in franchise history after outlasting winless Tampa Bay in overtime a week ago, but the Falcons have fallen on hard times thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a career-high 385 yards with two TDs and added another 60 on the ground with another TD against Atlanta in the postseason encounter. His counterpart, Matt Ryan, has never lost to Seattle (3-0).
PREDICTION: Seahawks 24, Falcons 17
Cincinnati (6-3) at Baltimore (3-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: This could very well be the Ravens' last chance to get back in the AFC North race. The defending Super Bowl champs are 2 1/2 games behind Cincinnati, which has won four of five overall but is coming off a bad setback against Miami and dealing with the loss of All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins to a torn ACL.
Baltimore has lost three straight games, including to Cleveland for the first time in 12 tries in Week 9. The Ravens, though, have won eight of their past 10 home games against AFC North foes
PREDICTION: Ravens 17, Bengals 16
Detroit (5-3) at Chicago (5-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: No Line
THE SKINNY: At least a portion of first place in the NFC North is on the line Sunday in Chicago when the Lions visit the Bears. Each team is 5-3 and in a three-way tie with Green Bay for the top spot in the division.
Injured Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who has been sidelined since suffering a torn groin muscle in the first half against Washington on Oct. 20, was hoping to return against the Lions, but that is looking more and more unlikely, especially after the way backup Josh McCown performed in a 27-20 win over Green Bay on Monday night.
"I don't think we can say I'll be out there for the Detroit game," Cutler said on his radio show earlier this week. "We're trying everything we can to get out there. It feels good, but I haven't practiced. I haven't been in a live situation.
McCown was 22-for-41 for 272 yards, two touchdowns and a 90.7 passer rating against the Pack, the best rating for a Bears quarterback against Green Bay since Kyle Orton in 2007. The veteran passed for 313 yards and two TDs in his only previous start against Detroit (Sept. 9, 2007 while with Oakland).
The Lions are all about their high-powered offense featuring QB Matthew Stafford, RB Reggie Bush and WR Calvin Johnson. Stafford passed for 488 yards in a Week 8 last-second win over Dallas and reached 15,000 career passing yards (15,424) in his 53rd game, fastest in NFL history. Bush, meanwhile, ranks third in the NFL with 121.9 scrimmage yards per game, and Johnson is coming off his monster 329-yard receiving performance, the second-most ever in an NFL game and the most ever in a non-overtime contest.
PREDICTION: Lions 24, Bears 21
Philadelphia (4-5) at Green Bay (5-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: Green Bay got to see how the other half lives when All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone on the first series against Chicago. Without Rodgers, the Lambeau mystique evaporated quickly and the Pack looked like just another team while falling to a Jay Cutler-less Bears club.
Veteran Seneca Wallace is Rodgers' nondescript fill-in, meaning the Packers will likely rely on their new-found running game. Green Bay had won four straight before losing A-Rod and rookie Eddie Lacy has rushed for 545 yards, the most in the NFL over the past five games. Lacy is currently on pace to break John Brockington's franchise rookie record of 1,105 rushing yards set in 1971.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, will be riding the hot hand of second-year quarterback Nick Foles, who tied the NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the Eagles' 49-20 win at Oakland.
"It's a great honor," said Foles about tying the single-game touchdown record. "Hats off to our guys for doing a great job."
Foles, who has played in six games this season (three starts), has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception. Only four quarterbacks have started a season with more touchdown passes before throwing an interception: Denver's Peyton Manning (20 in 2013), Cleveland's Milt Plum (16 in 1960), Dallas' Don Meredith (14 in 1966) and Minnesota's Randall Cunningham (14 in 1998).
PREDICTION: Eagles 27, Packers 21
St, Louis (3-6) at Indianapolis (6-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 10
THE SKINNY: It was another week and another comeback for Colts QB Andrew Luck, who tossed three touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton in the second half as the Indianapolis overcame an 18-point hole at the break to down a Texans team stunned by the collapse of head coach Gary Kubiak at halftime.
Luck is now 17-7 as an NFL starter and will be aiming to improve on his 10-2 mark in Indy.
The Rams are 0-2 since losing their franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford, to a torn ACL and will again turn to Kellen Clemens, who will be making his 15th career NFL start. One bright spot has been rookie RB Zac Stacy, who has 261 rushing yards (130.5 per game) over his last two games.
PREDICTION: Colts 28, Rams 14
Oakland (3-5) at New York Giants (2-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 7
THE SKINNY: The Giants search for their third straight win after starting the season 0-6. New York QB Eli Manning will be starting his 144th consecutive game, the longest active streak by a signal caller in the NFL. In the last game against the Raiders, Manning completed 8-of-10 passes for 173 yards with two TDs and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
The Raiders gave up another perfect passer mark last week to Philadelphia's Nick Foles in an ugly 49-20 setback to the Eagles. Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor leads all NFL signal callers with 485 rush yards this season and needs just 45 more to surpass Rich Gannon (529 in 2000) for the most rushing yards ever by a Raiders QB.
PREDICTION: Giants 21, Raiders 17
Buffalo (3-6) at Pittsburgh (2-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel told reporters on Monday that he has been medically cleared to return to practice, and should be on track to play on Sunday.
Manuel, who sprained an LCL in an Oct. 3 loss to Cleveland, has missed each of the Bills' last four games and Buffalo went 1-3 without him as Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel both got chances.
The New England Patriots ran up 610 total yards last Sunday in a 55-31 win over Pittsburgh, the most ever allowed by the Steelers franchise, something that had coach Mike Tomlin threatening jobs.
"You re-evaluate everything," Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You have to after a performance like that and we will. ... Those people who are lacking effort won't be playing. It's just that simple. I am angry, disappointed."
The Steelers have won six straight home games over Buffalo dating back to Dec. 16, 1979.
PREDICTION: Steelers 31, Bills 27
Jacksonville (0-8) at Tennessee (4-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 12
THE SKINNY: The Jaguars are coming off the first week in which they didn't lose this season. Of course, they were on a bye, but semantics aside, it was a nice change of pace for a team caught up in misery that now extends off the field after talented wideout Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely without pay for violating the NFL's substance abuse program.
Blackmon, 23, served a four-game suspension at the start of this season for his second substance abuse violation in less than a year. He pled guilty to a drunk driving charge in July 2012 for an incident that happened that June, not long after the Jaguars selected him fifth in the NFL Draft. The wideout ranked second on the Jaguars with 415 yards on 29 receptions this season despite missing the first four games.
The Titans were able to beat a familiar face last week when Chris Johnson's 19-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter lifted Tennessee over Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams, 28-21. Fisher, of course, coached the Tennessee franchise from 1994-2010.
PREDICTION: Titans 33, Jaguars 14
Carolina (5-3) at San Francisco (6-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 6
THE SKINNY: It's Cam versus Colin in the City by the Bay as two of the league's hottest teams will meet on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers have won five games in a row and the Panthers are looking to extend their four-game winning streak.
Cam Newton and Carolina defeated Atlanta, 34-10, this past weekend. During the winning streak, the Panthers have outscored opponents 130-48 and won each by at least 15 points, joining the 2009 Indianapolis Colts and 2012-13 Denver Broncos as the only teams to accomplish the feat over the past five seasons.
"I'm confident in who our guys are," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. "But the thing I want to stress is this is the most important game we play because it's the next one, and that's against the 49ers."
San Francisco, which had a bye in Week 9, has outscored its opponents 174-61 during its five-game winning streak. The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in all five of those victories.
PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Panthers 21
Houston (2-6) at Arizona (4-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Cardinals by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Football is the last thing the Houston Texans want to think about after head coach Gary Kubiak suffered a transient ischemic attack or mini- stroke at halftime of the team's Sunday night loss to Indianapolis last week.
The Texans have to march on, however, and named defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as the club's interim head coach while Kubiak continues his recovery.
Phillips stepped in for Kubiak against the Colts when the Texans blew a 21-3 halftime lead and dropped a 27-24 decision. The 66-year-old Phillips has been a head coach with Dallas, Buffalo and Denver and has experience as an interim head coach, performing those duties previously with Atlanta (2003) and New Orleans (1985).
The Cardinals have had an extra week to prepare and have really started to lean on explosive rookie RB Andre Ellington, who rushed for 154 yards and an 80-yard TD in the team's last game, a 27-13 win over Atlanta on Oct. 27.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 24, Texans 14
Denver (7-1) at San Diego (4-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 7
THE SKINNY: Denver, which had a bye in Week 9, is the league's highest-scoring team with 343 points, the most ever by a team through the first eight games of a season.
Leading the charge, of course, is quarterback Peyton Manning, who has passed for 2,919 yards, the most ever through a team's first eight games.
With head coach John Fox taking a leave of absence to recover from heart surgery, the Broncos elevated defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as the team's interim head coach.
"We believe we have a good football team," said Del Rio. "We're on a mission. We're on a mission to carry on and continue what coach Fox has going with this football team. We all want to make him proud."
At 4-4, the Chargers are right in the thick of the AFC playoff race. San Diego will look to bounce back from last week's overtime loss at Washington, ending the Chargers' two-game winning streak.
San Diego QB Philip Rivers has amassed a 106.5 passer rating this season, third in the league behind Manning (119.4) and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (108.0).
PREDICTION: Chargers 35, Broncos 31
Dallas (5-4) at New Orleans (6-2), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 7
THE SKINNY: A couple of division leaders will face off when the NFC East- leading Dallas Cowboys visit the NFC South frontrunners, the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are coming off a loss to the New York Jets but hit the midway point tied for the second-best record in the NFC. QB Drew Brees is second in the NFL with 2,672 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, while dynamic tight end Jimmy Graham leads the league with 10 TD catches.
"We're 6-2 and in first in the division," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "We've got a huge game this Sunday. It's 'Sunday Night Football,' a huge game, it doesn't get much better."
For Dallas, Tony Romo tossed a game-winning TD pass to Dwayne Harris with just 35 seconds left to lift the Cowboys over hapless Minnesota, 27-23. Dallas had 54 pass plays in the contest against nine runs, the highest pass-to-rush ratio during a victory in NFL history.
"All wins are big," says Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "Every one is big. You only play 16 games and you count the wins up at the end. You have to bring your best every Sunday in this league. We've got to learn from this one, move forward and get ready for New Orleans."
PREDICTION: Saints 38, Cowboys 27
Miami (4-4) at Tampa Bay (0-8), Monday, 8:40 p.m.
LINE: Dolphins by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Who's the biggest bully in the Sunshine State -- Tampa Bay's my- way-or-the-highway coach Greg Schiano or disgraced Dolphins right guard Richie Incognito?
Maybe the real answer is the NFL for subjecting us to this matchup on "Monday Night Football."
The Dolphins have actually made Schiano's toxic tenure in Tampa Bay look tame this week as the Jonathan Martin-Incognito controversy continue to break with the latest report claiming Incognito was asked by coaches to "toughen up" Martin, apparently leading to the alleged conduct that caused the second-year player to leave the team and the Dolphins to suspend Incognito indefinitely.
Incognito is accused of bullying Martin by using a racial slur and threatening violence against him and his mother in a voicemail Martin has turned over to the NFL, which is investigating the situation.
According to a transcript of the message, reportedly left in April, Incognito also tells Martin, "I'll kill you."
The Bucs are primed for the upset here.
PREDICTION: Buccaneers 21, Dolphins 17