Coaches Find Stress Harder to Handle
It began with Southern Cal's George Raveling and eventually grew into a conga line of coaches who no longer could, or would, handle the pressures of college basketball.
Raveling's awakening came in the aftermath of a near-fatal automobile accident on Sept. 25, 1994 in Los Angeles. Laid up in a hospital for six weeks with a broken pelvis and clavicle, none broken ribs and a collapsed lung, the 57-year-old Raveling realized just how little he enjoyed his job. A man true to himself, the longtime coach (22 years in Division I) announced his resignation on Nov. 14
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski was next. Krzyzewski, 48, the supposed poster boy for keeping things in perspective, returned from offseason back surgery much too quickly and was a mess by early January. Overwhelmed by pain and stress-related exhaustion, he left the team on Jan. 6-missing his first game as a head coach in 20 years-and later that month told the Blue Devils he was done for the season.
Nevada-Las Vegas coach Tim Grgurich, who was hired on Oct. 22, 1994 to replace Rollie Massimino, burned out after several moths of 20-hour workdays. He won two of his first seven games before being hospitalized for exhaustion on Jan. 6-the same day Krzyzewski checked into Duke University Hospital for more rest and back treatment.
Grgurich, 52, officially resigned five months after he took the UNLV job. Howie Landa, the 63-year-old assistant who took over for Grgurich, was also forced to quit after seven games because of health-related concerns.
Then there was Iona's Jerry Welsh, who coached at Division III Potsdam State (N.Y.) for 22 successful years then quit on Feb. 4 after less than four seasons in Division I. The reason: stress and exhaustion.
“It just doesn't seem like there's anyplace to hide,” said Louisiana State's Dale Brown, who began the 1994-95 season as one of only 10 active Division I basketball coaches with at least 23 season of service at the same school. “If you're on the bottom, you get fired. I've seen seven football coaches get fires at LSU and one of them had a 70-percent winning record. If you're on top, you either quit or burn out. If you're in the middle, nobody's happy and you don't last very long.”
“We've just lost perspective-all of us,” he said. “This is a game, but it's turned into much more than that. It's become a multi-billion-I used to say multi-million-dollar business, but we forget we're still dealing with teenagers.”
Raveling had considered retirement from coaching for several seasons. But the auto accident, followed by considerable rehabilitation time, forced him to reassess his future. He decided that big-time coaching wasn't worth the tradeoff and chose instead to pursue a career in broadcasting. He remains active in both the Black Coaches Association and the Nation Association of Basketball Coaches.
Krzyzewski was a victim of his own high standards and, who knows, maybe guilt. In his haste to return to a young Blue Devil team, Krzyzewski basically ignored his doctor's advice and was back on the sidelines only 10 days after surgery to repair a displaced disk. He didn't last long. On Jan. 22, he informed the school he wouldn't return for the remainder of the season.
The rumors started shortly thereafter. Coach K had cancer. He was getting a divorce. He was addicted to painkillers. He had hit one of his players during a practice and had been suspended by the university. He was quitting for good. He was leaving for the NBA.
Krzyzewski held a press conference on March 6 to address his status. He said he would return for the 1995-96 season, but added that he had learned his lesson. “I never had [suffered exhaustion] before in my life,” he said. “And you can be damn sure I never will again. It's revealing to me. It shows me that you can have limits, no matter who the hell you are.”
One treatment gaining popularity is early retirement
Kentucky's Rick Pitino, 42, figures he'll be out of the business within 10 years. And John Calipari, 35, of UMass has said he can't see himself coaching at age 55 or 60.
When asked about what advice he'd give a frazzled colleague, Calipari points to Dean Smith, college basketball's all-time winningest coach with 830 victories and two NCAA championships in 34 seasons at North Carolina.
Says Calipari: “Dean said it best: 'If you treat this stuff like life and death, then you're going to die a lot'.”