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Before taking the job as Westside High athletic director, Rayvan Teague spent 29 seasons as a high school football coach, most of them highly successful ones.

In coaching years, that would be about 58 seasons.

"In football season, you work two weeks within one week," said Teague, who typically worked an 84-hour week. "When we were in playoffs, I worked 92 hours a week," Teague said.

"The average coach works an enormous amount of time. Most people don't realize how much time."

In Teague's case, which he considers typical, "you don't get the right amount of rest most days, and you don't take time to eat - you grab something fast and get back to work. And even though you're around athletes who are working out, there's no time to exercise yourself."

As a head coach from 1990 to 2014, Teague endured only two losing seasons at three Georgia schools. He won a state championship at Swainsboro and guided Carrollton to 127 wins in 12 seasons. He retired from coaching at age 52.

"It goes year-round, really. The season starts in July, and if you go to the playoffs, it's a hectic pace for five-and-a-half months," Teague said. "By then you're getting ready for spring practice, and then 7-on-7 games (in the summer).

That stress level is a red flag for Anderson cardiologist Brett Stoll. In the absence of national studies on the subject, Stoll said anecdotal evidence hints that football coaches are prime candidates for heart problems.

Even those in good physical condition.

"When we traditionally think of risk factors, we're looking at things like age, weight, diabetes, smoking, and family history," Stoll said, "but there are other factors, and stress level is an obvious one."

Stoll said he would "probably put high school or college football coaching at the top" of his high-stress occupations, largely because their success depends on the performance of others.

"Even when they do their job, in preparing a team to play, they do not have a lot of control over the outcome. That's a very stressful situation," Stoll said, "and it's long-term."

Anderson area sports fans were reminded of that when Pendleton coach Paul Sutherland suffered a heart attack just moments after watching his team win a 50-43 verdict over Powdersville. The long list of high school and college coaches who have suffered heart attacks includes legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and former University of South Carolina coach Joe Morrison.

Thanks to a rapid response by an EMS team on the scene and doctors at AnMed Health Medical Center, Sutherland is expected to enjoy a full recovery.

All coaches aren't as fortunate. A Google search of "high school foootball coaches and heart attacks" provides dozens of reports, some involving heart failure during games. The list includes coaches as young as age 36.

"Cardio problems can be spontaneous, and they're often unpredictable," Stoll said, noting that while many artery problems evolve over years, others can be triggered by stress in a single event.

"Coaches, and others in high-stress situations, need to recognize that, and look for the risk factors, and do things to modify their behavior," Stoll said. "Things like 30 minutes of exercises a day goes a long way to reducing risk factors and may even help in lowering stress levels."

Stoll said coaches "tend to be very 'driven' people, the Type-A's, which can be another risk factor. "And of course, a lot of the stress is self-imposed."

A myth associated with the coaching profession, said Hanna athletic director John Cann, is that coaches at small schools escape the high-stress level.

"The size of the school doesn't matter - the stress is there," said Cann, a former football coach now in his fourth year as an administrator. He served as coach for 28 years, 13 of them as head coach at Class A Landrum High, before stepping away from football.

"In some ways, the stress is higher at the small schools because the coach wears more hats. There aren't many people you can delegate the jobs to, and you wind up doing it all," said Cann, who, like Sutherland, served in the dual role of head football coach and athletic director.

"You do what you can to make it work, but it adds to the stress. I don't think the average fan understands how difficult the job is," Cann said.

"On game night, on most play calls, they have about 15 seconds to make a decision. You make hundreds of those in a season," Cann said. "That's stressful."

Follow Abe Hardesty on Twitter @abe_hardesty or email abe. [email protected]

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October 2, 2017


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