Why We Would Never Be a College Football Head Coach

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2013

Jim Tressel ages like a US President over the course of his time as the head coach at Ohio State.
Jim Tressel ages like a US President over the course of his time as the head coach at Ohio State.

Have you ever asked yourself what you would do if your phone rang and the AD of your favorite college football squad was on the other end of the line calling to ask you to take over the reins of the team?

Yes, after all those years of moaning, groaning and questioning a series of coaching staffs the administration at your beloved university was finally going to get it right and let you guide the team to glory.

Though on the surface it’s almost impossible to imagine turning down the opportunity to be the actual sideline leader of your favorite college football program, before getting caught up in any Gatorade-shower dreams and crystal-pigskin wishes, there are a couple of things you ought to carefully consider.

Indeed, before we have any fantasies about leading the boys out of the tunnel clad in a pair of slightly snug and delightfully hued double-snap coaches shorts, it might be prudent to look at the proverbial “other” side of being a head coach in college football.

Sure, we all know about the fame, the very real fortune and the potential opportunity to one day hold aloft the crystal BCS trophy. But what about the reality of being the 124 guys who don’t win the national championship every year?

Beyond this, what about the pain of being one of the 115 FBS coaches who don’t make a BCS bowl game? And yeah, what if you become one of the 55 coaches who live with the shame of not even making a bowl game each and every season?

These guys still work the same hours, under the same pressure and suffer the same sort of grief.

So, before you scream, “Hell to the YES!” to your school’s AD and hang up the phone and update your Facebook status with, “I’m the new head football coach at XYZ,” take a quick look at the following five reasons why you would never want to be a college football head coach.

Long Hours

Per the website jobmonkey.com, the average college football head coach clocks about 100 hours per week during the season.

To put this into perspective, the total number of hours in a seven-day week is 168, meaning that at 100 hours per week, the head coach uses 60 percent of his time—including sleep hours—for work.

This leaves 68 precious hours for sleeping, eating, personal tasks, relationships, etc.

Breaking this down a bit further: a 100-hour work week equals a full seven-day work week (no days off) with 14.28-hour work days and only 9.71 hours remaining, per day, for sleep and/or non-work related commitments.

In an article posted on the HuffingtonPost.com back in December of 2009 when Urban Meyer experienced his health issues at Florida, Louisville’s AD Tom Jurich made the following statement regarding how the Meyer situation made him take notice of then-new head coach Charlie Strong’s sleeping habits.

I’ve never paid any attention, but these guys go 100 miles an hour…Like Charlie, when he was here, he never slept. He went eight, nine days without any sleep, that’s not an exaggeration. He might get an hour here an hour there.

Now, I’m not saying, I’m just saying…that sounds rough.

The hours on the job, of course, will be curbed back from mid-January until mid-August during the “offseason,” but before you picture lazy days with no alarm clocks and late tee times at the country club, remember that recruiting season, spring ball and early fall practices are all part of the routine.

Limited Family Time, Personal Life

Throwing out a number like a 100-hour work week is fine for single guys like former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, but what about one of the many head football coaches across the FBS ranks that come equipped complete with a wife and kids?

Yes, it’s one thing to say a guy has 68 hours left each week—maximum—to attend to “personal matters,” but it’s an entirely different thing when you put a face and a name to each of the matters that include a wife of 15 years, a 12-year-old boy who plays baseball and a 14-year-old daughter who has the lead in the school musical.

Sure, the game that leads to the BCS bowl game is crucially important to the rest of us, but to these three individuals you only get one shot at having your dad or husband at your big night.

And how many times can you swallow what you want for the bigger picture of what’s “right” for him and everyone else?

Questions like these aren’t as simple as black and white, and we could philosophize all day long about where families fit into fame and fortune, because the truth is people benefit and pay a dear price at every turn. That said, it would be naïve to say that both the coach himself and his family don’t lose something at the altar of college football.

The game owns him; it’s owns his time, his focus, his energy and his passion…that is, if he’s going to be successful.

Yes, running out of the tunnel and being on the front page is downright thrilling, the best thing ever, but having only 9.71 hours per day, including weekends (well, when you are in town), to eat, sleep and spend time with your family?

Simply put, there is more than one way to define who the “loser” is on Saturday afternoons.  And that’s coming from a lady who won’t talk to anyone for 24 hours after a certain Scarlet and Black-hued college football team loses a game.

Lack of Job Security

Another huge detractor from taking a college football head coaching job is the fact that the turnover rate just continues to rise as the game becomes more of a cash cow.

According to an article posted on ESPN.com in October of 2012, the average turnover rate in the FBS head coaching ranks from 1991 to 2005 stayed fairly steady at 18 percent, only to rise to 22 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Based on the 30 head jobs that have turned over thus far this offseason, the current rate is up to 24 percent with no sign of letting up.

Simply put, if your numbers in terms of wins and losses start to falter, even ever so slightly, you’ll be on a hot-seat watch list somewhere.

Another alarming trend currently playing out in the college ranks is the fact that second- and third-year head coaches are getting the axe before even being allowed to get their systems properly in place and their own people on the roster.

To illustrate this disturbing trend, Jon Embree was named the head coach at Colorado in December of 2010, only to be promptly fired in November of 2012.

Sure, Embree went 4-21 over two fairly ugly seasons with the Buffaloes, but remember this is a program that hasn’t gone over the .500 mark since going 7-6 back in 2005, meaning that he wasn’t necessarily working with a full cupboard.

Additionally, Embree only had the opportunity to go through one full recruiting cycle during his very short tenure at Colorado because he came in late in the process for the class of 2011 and wasn’t allowed to stick around for signing day in 2013.

His sole class, the group from 2012, ranked a very respectable No. 36 by Rivals.com—a number that represented the Buffaloes' best haul in four seasons.

What this all amounts to is Embree getting canned when his only recruiting class was just finishing up their freshman season.

There is just something inherently wrong with that picture.

Expectations, Stress

When you combine the expectations associated with the role of a college football coach (e.g. win lots of games, win them now and then win some more) with the fact that the actual results are in the hands of a group of kids between the ages of 18 and 22, you’ve got a pressure cooker like no other.

Indeed, though winning 10 games in college ball does nothing but enhance a head coaches’ career, the flip side—and the irony—is that once you’ve hit the double-digit mark, suddenly anything short of that is a bit of a letdown, or a complete failure.

And the truth of the matter is though the head coach is ultimately responsible for the recruiting process, conditioning, the playbook, scouting opponents, game-day preparation and actual sideline operations, it ultimately comes down to the young men who play the game when determining the ever-important outcome of the actual ballgames.

To illustrate how this works, think back to Lloyd Carr at Michigan, who basically got forced out after going 122-40 and winning one national title and five Big Ten championships from 1995 through 2007.

What was Carr’s final crime?

He went 9-4 in his final season, finished tied for second in the Big Ten, beat No. 9 Florida, 41-35, in the Capital One Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 18.

Though this obviously wasn’t good enough, the Wolverines are 34-29 since Carr’s departure and have yet to capture a title of any kind.

Guys like Carr and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer are living proof that as good as being a college football coach has to be, it is inherently flawed as a position and unfair by its very nature. 

And if you think that this is all a bunch of drama whipped up in the minds of people overzealous about sports, eager to make it sound way more interesting than it actually is, listen in to what former NFL coach Herman Edwards was quoted as saying in a New York Times article published in September of 2010.

“You can die coaching,” Edwards stated. “I’m not trying to be funny, but it can kill you.”

And when you think of guys like Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who actually had an in-game heart attack in 2010 during a game against Notre Dame, you realize that there is simply nothing funny about it.

The Media

Really, you could argue that the media amps up the pressure on each of the other four reasons why a perfectly “normal” individual wouldn’t want to be a college football head coach.

Indeed, while it’s one thing to work a number of hours that suck the life out of you, have zero job security and live under the pressure of unrealistic expectations that are controlled by the actions of 18- to 22-year-old kids, it’s another thing entirely to be watched 24/7 while doing it.

And that’s precisely what the media does to college football head coaches, especially to those at big-time BCS programs.

Whether it’s on television, radio or the Internet, head coaches get picked apart both during the actual season and during the time when their teams are off, to the point where nothing is off limits.

And frankly, in many cases, like in the video of Dantonio in a presser after a win over Eastern Michigan in 2012, you can see the train starting to come off the tracks and understand why it is happening.

The truth of the matter is: 60 years ago head football coaches at the college level were overworked, rarely saw their loved ones during the season and—especially in the big-time programs of the era—lived under a tremendous amount of pressure.

While all these factors have no doubt intensified with the rise of the era of big money in collegiate sports, the media-saturated culture we currently live in has taken these age-old coaching challenges and exploded them into a whole new stratosphere.


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