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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Increasing pressure drives coaches out earlier

Former University of Iowa All-American quarterback Chuck Long spoke to a local audience Nov. 26 about his years as a collegiate coach.
Former University of Iowa All-American quarterback Chuck Long spoke to a local audience Nov. 26 about his years as a collegiate coach.

How long do you stay in a job that’s stressful, with unyielding schedule demands that pull you away from family moments you’ll never get back?

When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he’s leaving coaching, again, at age 54 after the Rose Bowl, I started thinking about how few people are in coaching for life anymore. Meyer cited health concerns as a factor in his decision. He has an arachnoid cyst in his brain that causes severe headaches, and had shown obvious effects of being in pain on the sideline this season.

Meyer was suspended for three games to start this season over his role in the handling of assistant coach Zach Smith, who was accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse. Meyer acknowledged the investigation was among the reasons for his decision

Increasingly, high-profile coaches are deciding enough is enough in their 50s. Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder is an anomaly. He recently announced he is retiring for a second time at age 79, after returning to that post at age 70 following three years out of coaching.

Bill Cowher is my age (61) and left the NFL coaching whirlwind at age 50 after a 15-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s done rather well for himself since then as a studio analyst for NFL Today on CBS.

Tony Dungy left coaching at age 53 and is likewise a studio analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Bob Stoops had a successful run at Oklahoma in a place where the pressure to win is intense. Ryan McKim of Creston worked on his staff after similar duty at Iowa State, but is now back coaching high school (first at Creston, now at Lewis Central) while working in a job with more “normal” hours and actually having a personal life.

In his recent appearance in Creston as a guest of Creston Rotary, former Iowa and NFL quarterback Chuck Long related a similar story. He was in coaching for 18 years after his NFL career ended, including being the quarterback coach at Iowa when Creston’s Kyle McCann was directing Kirk Ferentz’s first bowl victory at the Alamo Bowl in 2001.

A member of the Creston audience asked if he misses coaching. (Long is now CEO and executive director of the Iowa Sports Foundation and is an analyst for the Big Ten Network, often appearing in their Chicago studio.)

“I loved the mentoring of the players, and I actually enjoyed recruiting and meeting the kids and their families,” Long said. “There’s nothing better than working with a young player and seeing that light come on when they get it. I do not miss the hours, the unhealthy lifestyle. I actually sleep really well now and I eat right. When you’re in coaching, 18-hour days are the norm and you might be eating at midnight. You’re not sleeping at all. Your brain never stops. You’re always thinking about the next game, and staying on top of recruiting 24/7. You’re always on your phone, or on Facebook or Twitter, for recruiting because if you’re not, you’re falling behind.”

Working at a football hotbed like Oklahoma comes with a price, Long said.

“The pressure seems to go up as you go south in terms of football,” Long said. “In Norman they don’t want just an eight-win season. They want national titles. I was their play caller for six years and we only lost two home games in that time. But after the first loss, the next day I had six ‘For Sale’ signs in my front yard.”

Long said in today’s environment with big money involved and less patience, the Hayden Fry story might not play out. Fry did not have winning seasons his first two years at Iowa, a place that underwent 20 straight losing seasons. Anymore, you only get a couple of years to produce results.

By his sixth year, Fry had the team on top of the college football world, and Long was his All-American quarterback.

“By my senior year we were No. 1 in the nation and we played Michigan at home in a game that was the first regular season No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in 40 years,” Long said.

A native of Wheaton, Illinois, Long said he now considers himself an Iowan after five years directing such things as the Iowa Games, Iowa Senior Games, Live Healthy Iowa initiative and Adaptive Sports Iowa (for participants with physical disabilities).

He said 18 years of high level coaching was enough stress for him.

Heck, on a much, much smaller scale, I enjoy the competitive aspect of coaching and helping young players become better, but after a tough loss last month I admit I stewed pretty much all night about ways to correct our shortcomings. It gnaws at you. I can’t imagine what it’s like when an entire state expects better results.

Listening to Long’s comments in his Nov. 26 appearance here, I gained even more respect for those who are willing to follow their passion in that kind of environment. It’s no wonder so many look tortured on the sideline.

Long will also be a guest of Creston Kiwanis on Dec. 11. I encourage all members to attend. He shares some really interesting stories, particularly about Fry’s resurgence of the Iowa program, which is the biggest part of his new book, “Destined for Greatness.” You can find it on Amazon.com and many book retailers around the state.

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Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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