For Broncos coaches, working more to end struggles isn’t healthy — or effective
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — From the safety of distance — both physical and emotional — it can be easy to overlook the stress of the football life and the toll it takes on those involved.
It’s much more difficult when you have a closer look.
So, on Thursday, it was distressing to hear Broncos offensive coordinator Justin Outten, a good man devoted to his family, say, “I don’t see my family or hear from them. I don’t see them.
“My car hasn’t started in a week.”
It was part of an answer about tuning out the noise rattling outside the Broncos’ inner sanctum. The chatter and dissemination about a 2-4 team — and, in particular, an offense accounting for fewer points per game than any other in the AFC.
“You have to tune it out because you just put your nose down and you work,” Outten said. “You can’t look outside because that’s not going to help anything. It’s about what can we do better in this building to perform on Sunday? It’s a family in there. You got to stay together, you got to stay the course and trust each other.”
Of course, it’s a “family” from which people can be dismissed at any time. Personally, that’s the problem I’ve always had with the NFL pushing a “football is family” ad campaign in recent years.
It’s a team. And it’s a job. But it’s not everything.
Maybe some on the Broncos’ coaching staff need to call Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil’s got some skins on the wall, as another successful coach, John Fox would say. He’s now the proud owner of a gold Hall-of-Fame jacket. His bust sits proudly in Canton, Ohio. And he wouldn’t have football immortality without his capacity to change and learn lessons from his first stint as an NFL head coach.
In particular, the most important lesson: There is such a thing as working too much.
While coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, Vermeil had a sign placed in the team’s locker room that read, “The best way to kill time is to work it to death.”
A few months after resigning from the Eagles, he told a group of attendees at a corporate speech, “I worked time to death … and it killed me.”
He went about things differently when he returned to coaching in St. Louis a decade and a half later. And there, with a more holistic approach, he achieved the one thing that eluded him in his first NFL head-coaching gig. Then he went to Kansas City and breathed life into an aging, tired team before retiring.
Vermeil’s experience brought the word “burnout” into the cultural lexicon.
The problem is that NFL coaches seem to be wired a certain way: with the belief that more work will fix what ails a team. This philosophy is probably part of the reason why Bill Parcells famously said, “This is not a game for the well-adjusted.”
And then, of course, there are the physical impacts of a lack of sleep. In the short term, these include slower reaction time and impact on cognitive performance. So, yes, those extra hours of work could be better spent by catching up on sleep, making the waking hours more productive.
Working past the point of reasonable expectation doesn’t necessarily mean better results. And with a coaching staff of 31, one would think the Broncos wouldn’t need their coaches to resort to nights spent stealing what little sleep they can find in the office.
Because in addition to the non-football benefits, it’s possible that refreshed minds might actually lead to better football results, anyway.