NFL Media's Andrea Kremer sat down with Bruce Arians, Tom Coughlin, John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan for an exclusive roundtable discussion to reveal how NFL head coaches balance their personal lives with their demanding work responsibilities. The four-part series will run Monday through Thursday on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" at 8 p.m. ET.
By Andrea Kremer
NFL Media Chief Player Health and Safety Correspondent.
There are only 32 of these jobs in the whole world.
National Football League head coach: equal parts leader, teacher, strategist, psychologist, father figure, tough-love dispenser, media maven and crisis manager. The job defines what they do and who they are. They typically talk about their priorities being family, faith and football, but that order is disputed quite often.
What about the lifestyle? I mean, they do have lives, don't they? From late July to January (and what they hope is February), it's not much of an existence beyond eating, breathing and sleeping (what little there is of that) football. But in the prime of the offseason, they're most rested and able to be introspective.
So recently, we assembled four NFL head coaches -- the Arizona Cardinals' Bruce Arians, New York Giants' Tom Coughlin, Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh and New York Jets' Rex Ryan, who boast seven Super Bowl rings and 80 years of NFL experience among them -- to talk subjects that you rarely hear much about, ranging from health to family to managing their 24/7 football-centric lives. They're immersed in Xs and Os all the time, so the goal was to provide a window into their more personal and personable sides.
Whenever you bring four healthy egos together, it's all about chemistry and just letting them talk among themselves with the audience as a fly on the wall. What resonated for me as the moderator of this panel was the level of respect and sincere admiration they had for each other. They seemingly hung on each other's words, with constant nods of recognition to mark the shared experiences in this exclusive fraternity.
When the four coaches first sat down, the discussion began with a serious tone, as if they were almost a little guarded. But once the stories started to flow, their demeanor changed and you could literally feel them easing into the conversation as the ambiance went from corporate to clubhouse. By the end of our hour-plus session, plenty of laughter had been shared. It was like they were in on the same jokes, even though they'd never shared them with one another before.
At one point, Ryan leaned forward to the group, as if to compare notes, and said, "Hey, has anybody done this?" And he proceeded to talk about the toll the season takes. It was one of those moments you felt he just wanted to know he's not the only one experiencing something, a search for validation asked to the only other men who have lived it.
"You know, we get in a groove," Ryan said. "The season is what ... I mean, we get probably two days off in six months, right? And then, after the season, no matter when it is, you get a little time, we're gonna take a week off, I always get sick," he laughed, as the other coaches chimed in, almost in unison, "Absolutely."
"And I think you figured out, it's cause you can, I can get sick now," Ryan said.
It was fascinating to see the other coaches angrily jump to Ryan's defense when we talked about the New York media frenzy that ensued last September when Ryan spent cutdown day at his son's first Clemson football game.
"That's a joke right there," Harbaugh sneered. "That's comical."
"That's all you got to write about?" Coughlin said.
"That just shows you how ignorant whoever wrote that is," Harbaugh added.
The cruel irony was not lost on the coaches: They're criticized for having football tunnel vision and making so many family sacrifices -- yet, when they get that rare chance to do something with their kids, they're ripped for that, too.
For his part, Ryan maintained he'd do it all over again if he had the opportunity. And he really appreciated the support of his peers.
"It aggravates these guys as much as it does me -- that's the beauty of it," Ryan observed.
They shared stories, quite a few laughs and even let out some "state secrets." The camaraderie of the men really shone through. Hey, it's the offseason -- time spent recharging for the long haul of the season.
OTHER CONTENT IN THIS SERIES: