The Winning Lifestyle
by Dan Hauptman
A collective deep breath is needed to be taken all around the college
basketball nation this week.
This action is needed for two reasons: the coaching fraternity thankfully
avoided losing one of its most notable members last weekend and Bob Huggins’
health problems should hopefully have a positive impact on coaches all across
Huggins, the Cincinnati coach who isn’t even 50 years old, suffered a heart
attack while at a Pittsburgh airport last Saturday morning. During a time of
year when a coach should theoretically be taking it easy and preparing for
the start of basketball practices later this month, Huggins was at the
airport after a Pennsylvania recruiting trip and en route to a coaching
clinic in Milwaukee. He is not alone.
In the ultra-competitive world of leading a big time collegiate hoops
program, there are very few free moments in which to relax and recuperate. A
minute not spent helping your team is viewed as a minute in which your
competition got the advantage over you. That is exactly why the lifestyles
of these coaches are so hectic and frankly, bad for the health of themselves
and everyone around them.
The biggest health risks to these men are heart problems. In recent years,
the list of coaches who have suffered some type of heart ailment, albeit in
most cases not as severe as the near-death attack that Huggins endured in
late September, reads like a who’s-who of basketball generals: Jerry
Tarkanian, Rick Majerus, Charlie Coles and unfortunately many others.
If you include college football coaches on that list, then who can leave off
former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who suffered a heart attack the night
before his Wolverines played in the 1970 Rose Bowl and then underwent
quadruple bypass surgery and missed the end of the 1987 season.
In addition to the constant travel and lack of sleep that plagues these
coaches, the diets and flamboyant personalities are also to blame and
hopefully open to improvement in the future. This is proven, thanks to a
1996 study by Harvard Medical School professor Ichiro Kawachi. He confirmed
an earlier study that “grumpy old men” are about three times as likely as
others to have heart disease. Hoops coaches, almost all between the ages of
40 and 65, would definitely be classified as “grumpy old men” when on the
sidelines of a basketball game.
But what is so alarming about Huggins’ attack is that it happened during the
offseason, when the pressure to win is not quite there yet. His doctors
cited two main reasons when explaining the possible cause for his sudden
chest pain. Family history was mentioned as the primary culprit, especially
because his father, Charlie, a high school basketball coach, had a heart
attack when he was 36 and then had quadruple bypass surgery when he was 60.
The other cause that was cited involves everything that is a part of his
coaching lifestyle. His weight has fluctuated in recent years, he travels as
if he never learned how to dribble, his get-in-your-face emotional style on
the sidelines is extremely pressurized and his late nights and lack of sleep
are endangering. If he does not want to return to the Beaver Medical Center
again, then he must drastically take control of his work life.
Former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier often is criticized for his
minimal amount of time spent on the job, but he may be the only smart one of
this whole group. As shown by his unbelievable success (122-27-1 record in
his 12 years as head coach of the Gators, including the 1996 National
Championship), Spurrier was clearly able to win and lead the life that he
wanted to live, not the one that is dictated by the grueling schedules of his
colleagues at other universities.
Although Spurrier is now coaching in the National Football League with the
Washington Redskins, his lifestyle would wisely be followed by Huggins and
his other former fraternity brothers in the college basketball and football
ranks. Recruiting, scouting and all other activities that go into running a
Division I program are important, but not nearly as vital as time spent with
your family, your mind and your body.
Huggins is now in stable condition and looks like he will be back to his old
self within the next few months, but his old self will not be good enough
anymore. The events of last weekend were hopefully a wake up call for
himself and for his coaching brethren. Tone down the lifestyle, keep
yourself in better shape and most importantly, never forget to take a deep breath.