Cause for Concern

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 12, 2010 under Commentary, News | Be the First to Comment

Rick Carlisle collapsed to the ground during practice on Friday, went to his office later that night, and was back on the sidelines by Monday. A head coach’s work is never done, and though Carlisle denies that job-related stress brought about his literal downfall, it’s reasonable to think that the two may be related.

A coach in fine health and excellent shape who suddenly buckles at the knees doing nothing but standing? Sometimes these things happen, but I think it’s unreasonable to disregard Carlisle’s high-pressure line of work altogether. He’s “fine.” There’s “nothing to worry about.” But this isn’t an average working stiff with a 9 to 5, but a man in a profession of long nights, early mornings, plenty of travel, heavy expectations, and very public successes and failures.

Here’s Donnie Nelson’s take, as expressed on 103.3 FM ESPN Radio, and transcribed by Sports Radio Interviews:

“It was just really, they were kind of going through warmups and there was nothing out of the ordinary. Like I said, it’s pretty commonplace. My wife has probably fainted four or five times. It happens and when it does happen, it certainly catches you off guard and you have to take every precaution…It’s something that you have to take seriously, and we did, and everything’s checked out. So we just turn the page and move on from here.”

The reality is perhaps a bit more unfortunate than Nelson indicates, though not completely bleak. The coaching profession isn’t about to change, and while no one involved is willing to chalk Carlisle’s brief scare up to his job title, Art Garcia of NBA.com made note of some of the perils of the gig:

Still, his episode does bring into mind the correlation between coaching and stress-related issues. Several college football coaches have been in the headlines recently due to health scares. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack last month. Florida coach Urban Meyer was hospitalized last season after experiencing chest pains. Citing the mental and physical demands of the job, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy vowed last season to get outside or exercise at least once a day. The long hours, pressures of the job and anxiety take a toll. Coaches have been known to sleep in their offices before important and not-so-important games. The lifestyle can lead to poor eating habits and sleeping patterns if coaches aren’t careful.

“It’s obviously a hazard of the job,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Saturday. “When you look at the things that football coaches go through, for them it’s a 16-week schedule. But you look at what [basketball coaches] go through, it’s five games in eight nights in five different cities. You’re getting on a plane and eating at 12:30 at night, you’re arriving in a city at five in the morning and you’re meeting at 7:30. There’s just a lot of things that you got to try to manage a little bit. Obviously, when you see something like what happened to coach Dantonio and Rick, you gotta be concerned.”

We should all be concerned. For Rick, and for every coach who isn’t quite so meticulous in their morning workout routine. Yet the event is already behind us, as Carlisle has returned to us in his professional and most immediately relevant capacity. There are no significant health issues to worry about, but shouldn’t the institutional evil — or even the suspicion of one — be a little bit of a bigger deal? Or are coaches bound with the same pseudo-contractual obligation that professional athletes are to surrender their body for the sake of their craft?

What matters most is that Carlisle’s fainting spell wasn’t indicative of something more serious, but the undertones here are worthy of discussion, and as Kelly Dwyer noted at Ball Don’t Lie, worth keeping an eye on for the future. These kinds of events may not have the causality of high jump + awkward landing –> ankle injury, but with the coaching lifestyle acting as a logical impairment to the health of many of our clipboard-wielding leaders, should some kind of measure be taken to protect them? Just as importantly: with expectations and media coverage spiraling to new heights and the need for further preparation heightened with an influx of all kinds of new data, can we do anything at all?