Rich Rodriguez has talked about the stress of coaching with Florida's Urban Meyer, a friend who was forced to take a leave of absence from his job this past winter due to stress-related health issues that were eventually diagnosed as esophageal spasms. (John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)
You think he's joking, but he's not.
When Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez says he hasn't had a good night's sleep in three years, he's actually lying.
"It has been longer than that," he admits, shrugging a bit as he tries to explain all the tossing and turning that's part of the job description for a major college football coach.
It's a growing concern for Rodriguez and his peers lately, too, with another sobering reminder delivered last weekend when Mark Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack shortly after Michigan State's thrilling overtime victory over Notre Dame.
No one should blame that episode solely on Dantonio's profession. But just the same, you couldn't blame Rodriguez on Monday for saying it does give him pause.
It's bad enough the Wolverines coach is getting killed by the media and fans for just about everything he does or doesn't do. But is he also killing himself with the 100-hour work weeks and constant stress?
"It's scary when something like that happens, especially to a guy like Mark, who's such a fit guy," said Rodriguez, 47, in his third year at Michigan and 25th as a college coach. "I don't know how the stats compare to, say, normal CEOs -- maybe it's right in line. But there's no question, you don't ever really get away from your job as a football coach."
And let's be clear, Rodriguez isn't looking to get away from this job. Nor is this son of a coal miner suggesting his job, for which he's richly compensated, is any tougher than yours. (His grandfather, Marion, died of black lung disease after working in the mines in rural West Virginia.)
But ask him about the emotional roller-coaster he's riding and he'll explain matter-of-factly that seat belts are required.
"The highs are really high, and the lows are really low," said Rodriguez, who has had a few too many of the latter since making the move to Ann Arbor with his wife, Rita, and their two children. "And in our profession, the highs and the lows are public."
Labor of love
Privately, though, is where most of the battles are fought, and that's the part that's the real killer, most coaches will tell you.
"For me, it's because you're always thinking," Rodriguez said Monday, less than 48 hours after his team improved to 3-0 with a victory over Massachusetts that left no one, least of all him, satisfied. "It's probably like a lot of other people's jobs, especially if you're in charge of a lot of people. But you wake up and you think about something for an hour."
Or two or three.
"I mean, if I can get to sleep after midnight -- because normally it's not before that -- and I can get to 3 a.m. without waking up, that's a good night's sleep for me," Rodriguez said, chuckling.
Good nights and bad, he's up for good by 5:30 a.m. and at the office by 6 for his morning workout on the StairMaster, the one that's clearly labeled, "COACH ROD'S STAIRMASTER." He says he added some weight training at the behest of strength coach Mike Barwis this spring "and I've felt a lot better since doing that."
Monday, though, he admitted to more than a few faults, from his sleep habits to his diet -- "If I would eat better, I would have a lot less concern," he said -- to the fact he hasn't made getting a full physical an annual routine. He had one a couple years ago and encouraged his staff to do the same, but adds, "With coaches, sometimes you wait until it's too late to take a physical."
Always on the clock
Rodriguez has talked about it with Florida's Urban Meyer, a friend who was forced to take a leave of absence from his job this past winter due to stress-related health issues that were eventually diagnosed as esophageal spasms.
"And I've talked to a lot of other colleagues about it," Rodriguez said. "About how the profession has changed so much. Because you don't truly ever get away from it.
"But I mean, that's the lifestyle you choose to live in. You've got to love what you're doing or you wouldn't do it. But to do it like a Joe Paterno or a Bobby Bowden for so long? I don't think we'll ever see that again."
When the coaches get together at their annual conventions in January and May, Rodriguez says, "usually what we talk about is, 'OK, where you goin' for vacation? Where's your week?' "
Because a week -- two, if they're lucky -- is about all they can manage.
"But with your iPhone and your Blackberry, are you really ever away from it?" Rodriguez said. "You never really get away from it until you retire."
Rodriguez has no plans of doing that anytime soon, obviously. But even in the lightest of moments -- he laughed about the "kid in the parking lot" Monday inquiring about walk-on tryouts to solve his team's kicking woes -- it's just as obvious that there's no escaping what he is.
He's a football coach, every minute of every day.
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