It’s no surprise that the game of football is highly stressful for everyone involved, including the players, coaching staff, cheerleaders, and even the fans. In fact, recent news reports have highlighted the danger the repetitive violent impacts that football players sustain during the game and the devastating head injuries that can result. However, no one was expecting MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio’s recent heart attack, which occured just hours after the Spartans‘ historical defeat of Notre Dame on Saturday night. Luckily, Dantonio underwent surgery to have a stent placed in his heart on Sunday morning and is expected to fully recover. But will all coaches be so lucky and what does this mean for the game of football?
That’s a question on every Spartan fan’s mind, and probably for non-Spartans, too. While many coaches are well-paid, the job is very stressful and anything but “normal”. In fact, there is a long list of coaches that suffered alongside their players:
- Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill was on the sidelines Saturday for his team’s 28-22 loss to Illinois, despite spending most of the previous week in a Chicago hospital with dehydration. Kill had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his kidney at the end of the 2005 season, when he was head coach at Southern Illinois.
- Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker, a former MSU assistant coach under George Perles, recently was hospitalized with complications from diabetes. Notre Dame assistant Mike Elston with a viral illness.
- Florida coach Urban Meyer nearly ended his career last December because of health issues. He was hospitalized with chest pains after the Gators lost the Southeastern Conference championship game to Alabama.
- In the summer of 2006, Northwestern football coach Randy Walker died unexpectedly at 52. And about a year later, Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser passed away at 56 – he was found slumped over in his office shortly after returning from a jog.
The problem is the game’s all-consuming nature, at least that’s according to coach Bobby Johnson, who recently retired from Northwestern this summer. While he never cited health reasons for his decision, he did say this:
“Football is not life, but it’s a way of life, and it consumes your life,” Johnson said at the time. “You only have so many years to live, and you want to see a different way.”
While I was sitting in the stands on Saturday, I also noticed how angry fans get–one woman behind me repeatedly called one of the players a “loser” for not playing hard enough. That woman’s comments made me pause and think about the pressures in football–both college and professional–and who will end up in the hospital next.