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Coaching isn't life or death; it's more important

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Coaching isn't life or death; it's more important

By Mike Bianchi

The Orlando Sentinel


They are the most important people in the world.

In their twisted way of thinking, not even doctors or teachers or cops or firefighters do a job as important as theirs.

The world revolves around their mission, their schedule.

Not sickness in the family, not the death of a colleague, not even a dinner invitation from the president can stop them from locking themselves inside a dark room and beating their brains out trying to dissect the tendencies of a bouncing oblong ball.

Football coaches.

They are the sickest, most self-important people on the planet.

We've been chronicling the obsession profession ever since Bear Bryant once growled, "I ain't never had much fun. I ain't never been two inches away from football. Some coaches go fishing or hunting or golfing. Not me. All I want to do is be alone, studying how not to lose." But a new chapter in "The Compulsion of Coaching" was written recently when Miami Dolphins Coach Nick Saban turned down a dinner invitation from President Bush in Miami. Saban opted to stay at Dolphins headquarters and do whatever it is coaches do during the evening hours of training camp.

Seriously, what normal, well-adjusted human being would choose the analysis of goal-line blocking schemes over a dinnertime discussion with the most powerful man in the world?

"I feel like my first responsibility is to our team," Saban said. ". . . It was really a tough decision."

Actually, knowing Saban and his workaholic tendencies, the decision was probably an easy one. For guys like him, coaching comes first; everything and everybody else comes last. Even if he got fired, Saban's the type a guy who would rent an office just so he could sleep in it.

The self-absorption of football coaches is one of the most fascinating and disturbing phenomena in all of sports. Coaches in every other sport seem fairly reasonable and well-balanced, but too many football coaches are monomaniacal, idiosyncratic, ultra-paranoid fanatics.

Coaches in other sports have a secretary to take care of the small details, football coaches have an "executive assistant" at their beck and call, not to mention a "director of football operations," a "quality-control coordinator" and a "media spokesperson."

And why is it that football coaches need to have their own personal state trooper to protect them on the sidelines? Aren't basketball coaches more susceptible to fan violence?

And why is it that football teams, when they jet into a city the day before the big game, get a police escort to the team hotel? What are they going to be late for_turn-down service?

And why is it that football teams find it necessary to check into a team hotel on the day before they play a home game? Many college and pro football teams even sequester themselves in a hotel for weeks when they hold training camp in their hometown-training complex. What, do they need the Marriott points?

Can you imagine elementary-school teachers checking into a four-star hotel the night before they administer the FCAT? Or a surgeon checking his nurses and anesthesiologist into a hotel the night before a big brain operation? Of course not.

It all comes down to football coaches believing that what they do matters more than what we do. You see, they are much too important to deal with the distractions of everyday life. They don't have time to sit in traffic or remember birthdays or go to their kid's dance recital or have dinner with the president.

They have more important things to do_such as assessing and reassessing the depth chart and breaking down tape of the kickoff coverage team.

Even the sudden death of one of their own doesn't really faze them. When Northwestern Coach Randy Walker, just 52, died of a heart attack last month, many coaches expressed sadness, but it surely didn't slow them down any.

"You pause for a minute to reflect on Randy, and then everybody goes right back to what they were doing before," USF Coach Jim Leavitt admits.

Even though they see death, they still won't get a life.

Maybe this is why Bobby Bowden has been such a refreshing aberration for all these years.

Because he doesn't spend the night in the office. Because he doesn't get bogged down in trivialities. Because, as he's grown older, he's learned a uniquely senior way to deal with stress.

"When I start obsessing over a big game and putting a lot of pressure on myself," Bowden says and laughs, "I just fall asleep."

Then he turns serious.

"I have never," Bowden says, "allowed football to become my god."

This is not to say football has become Nick Saban's god.

But it most certainly has become his commander and chief.

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