Football coaches stay optimistic

Jeff Sherry

After going four years with only two coaching changes, the Big Ten has lost two football coaches in the last week: Indiana’s Bill Mallory and Purdue’s Jim Colletto.
Indiana fired Mallory last Thursday, primarily because his team has lost 13 straight conference games. Colletto, who also was under pressure for losing, resigned Monday. He said “I am tired and I am concerned for my health.”
But while it may seem easy to imagine the stress Mallory and Colletto have recently endured, coaches from across the conference made it clear this week that anxiety is always present in big-time college coaching — regardless of a program’s success.
Everyone from Ohio State’s John Cooper to Minnesota’s Jim Wacker empathized with the departing coaches and told about the different demands they all face.
Iowa coach Hayden Fry said people can’t fully understand the pressure involved with being a Division I-A football coach unless they’ve actually had the job.
“Whether it’s empty seats in the stadium, or making enough money to help supply the non-revenue sports and meet the requirements of gender equity and Title IX, along with all of the experts on the call-in shows and the second-guessing by various members of the news media … it bothers all the coaches,” Fry said.
It got to Colletto, and Tuesday he explained how it all eventually wore him down.
“You just get to the point where with the wear and tear, you just get fatigued,” he said. “It’s hard to generate the energy every week that you need. And you don’t get really any kind of feeling of accomplishment because you get close, then you draw back. Then you get close, and something hits you.
“To go through the grind that you go through, and not get the kind of results that you’d like to have … at some point you get enough hits to the head and you say, `Well, it’s time for somebody else to do it.'”
Other coaches are more successful at blocking out the negatives, as Wacker and Illinois’ Lou Tepper have demonstrated.
Tepper and Wacker are the Big Ten’s two coaches who are also in the most danger of not returning next year, yet neither of them is showing any signs of despair.
“My faith does not permit me to get anxious — it’s a commandment — I’m not permitted to,” Tepper said. “I’ve got to trust in that. I’m working every day as hard as I can, and I’m really enjoying it. I am not a stressed-out coach. I am really enjoying every day of my coaching.”
Wacker expressed a similar worry-free view Tuesday.
“You’ve got to enjoy it,” Wacker said. “I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world. I’ve made it 37 years staying ahead of the posse. If they get you in 37, so be it. It’s been a great life. I’d love to do it a little bit longer, but that’s not for me (to decide).”
In fact, it seemed that Wacker’s biggest worry is how his adversity will affect his players. Wacker has repeatedly accepted the blame for the Gophers’ failures, and often tells his players not to think about his job status.
He said it’s important for the coach to try to take all the pressure off the players. After all, dealing with stress is the coach’s job.
“I’ve told them they’ve got football, studies and girls to worry about — that’s enough,” Wacker said. “Don’t confuse them with old people and what they’re going to be doing next year. That’s a goofy way for young people to live. Live life for today and get excited for the opportunities you’ve got in all three of those vital areas.”