Stress is professional hazard for coaches
When Michigan State holder Aaron Bates rose up from what looked like a game-tying field goal attempt to loft a pass downfield toward a wide-open Charles Gantt, the calmest person in Spartan Stadium appeared to be Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
He stood on the sidelines with his arms folded, as if he were watching a chess match.
When Gantt caught the ball and sauntered into the end zone, giving Michigan State a stunning 34-31 overtime victory over Notre Dame on Saturday, Dantonio simply raised his hands in the air.
The mayhem was left to others. For Dantonio, there was no fist-pumping, no jumping up and down, no sprinting onto the field in celebration.
For anyone who wondered how Dantonio, after making such a brassy call, could look so nonchalant after the game, they had their answer within a few hours.
Before the night was done, Dantonio was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Doctors performed an angioplasty, opening a blocked blood vessel. Dantonio was released from the hospital Tuesday, but it is unclear when he will resume coaching the Spartans. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell has taken over in the interim.
Dantonio’s heart attack has given those around college football pause. When joined with the stress-related health issues that led Florida’s Urban Meyer to take a leave of absence and the sudden death of Northwestern coach Randy Walker in 2006, it has made the health of coaches a much-discussed topic this week.
"I need to do a better job taking care of myself," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I do in the offseason, and I feel great. But there’s no doubt that you just wear yourself thin trying to win every game in the fall, and there’s a lot on your plate."
Brown went on to list all the people he has to deal with — fans, alumni, high school coaches, regents, faculty and 130 players who all have parents who must be told that only 11 can play on the field at one time.
"It’s a business more than it used to be," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson. "We just went out and coached, everybody was friends in the profession and you just went out, had a good time and coached your rear ends off. You didn’t worry about the outside stuff."
Left unsaid is that with all this increased unpleasantness — and stress-producing health risks — has come an enormous increase in rewards.
At least 55 coaches earned $1 million or more in total compensation last year, according to a USA Today survey of football coaches’ salaries.
Brown, for his trouble, does well enough to have earned $3.06 million (before bonuses) last year — or enough that he has a flat-screen TV in every room of his house, including the bathrooms. Erickson earned $1.5 million in compensation last season.
Dantonio made $1.8 million last season.
Those are a lot of reasons to keep putting up with the incessant chatter on the Internet, 18-year-old kids who can’t grow up fast enough and the increased pressure that coaches are under to win because of an athletic department’s bottom line.
No wonder it takes $4 million a year to keep Urban Meyer at Florida.
What it comes down to is coaches have two choices: They can push themselves every day, eating and sleeping on the run, putting off exercise and rest because there is something else they have to do to keep their job.
Or they can coach in high school.
So, while Dantonio recovers from his scare, his heart attack — if it were indeed brought on or exacerbated by stress and the demands of the job — the result may be some hand-wringing in the coaching fraternity, but not much else.
To some, it seems less a warning sign than it is the cost of doing business in a fiercely competitive profession.
"I don’t think of it as stress," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "I think coaching football isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. We chose to be in this."