Friday, June 30, 2006

A wake-up call

If you've followed the Big Ten for any length of time, you woke up this morning to a loss that hits way too close to home.
Northwestern football coach Randy Walker died Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. He was 52.
He had been treated for chest pains before, checking himself into the hospital in 2004 where he was diagnosed with myocarditis and ordered to begin changing his high-impact lifestyle, which he was reportedly doing.
At the time, Walker offered a quote that now makes his death truly sickening:
"I've really taken my doctor's orders to heart, because frankly, I want to see my grandkids someday."
It's a wonder this doesn't happen to more football coaches. Being a major college coach is a high-stress, seven-day-a-week job that seldom relents. Weeks during the fall are spent dissecting film, reviewing scouting reports, altering the playbook and conducting practices. In the offseason, a coach has to become a tireless recruiter, attending high-school showcase games, visiting homes and, once again, dissecting hours upon hours of videotape.
It's no wonder a coach's diet is comprised mostly of things that come in paper wrappers or plastic bags. It's no wonder a coach's sleep schedule is fractured and his exercise regimen is almost nonexsistent.
Combine a diet high in fat, sodium and cholestrol, a lack of sleep and no exercise with heart-pounding stress, and health problems are almost unavoidable.
We saw it with Butch Davis here in Cleveland. In his four years as coach of the Browns, he packed on the pounds and was admittedly miserable by the time he severed ties with the club in 2004.
Davis' responsibilites in Cleveland were similar to that of a college coach. He was in charge of both the playbook and the roster, which in this hyper-complex age of quasi-warfare football, seems like too much to ask of one man.
Maybe college programs should start operating more like NFL teams. Give the personnel responsibilites to a separate person, and let the coach do the job that's in his title.
Most coaches probably wouldn't go for that right off the bat. But if given a choice between surrendering control of his roster and dying an early death, hopefully most coaches will look home to their families and make the right decision.
For the family of Randy Walker, it's too late. All we can hope is that he serves as a cautionary tale for others.

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