Basketball coaches live fast-break lifestyles

The strongest effect of Skip Prosser's legacy might be found in a food pantry in Starkville, Miss.

The household of Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury used to be filled with chips, fries, chicken nuggets and tater tots. Gorging on junk food after he left the MSU basketball complex became the easy thing to do.

"That's the worst," Stansbury said. "I'd eat whatever was there."

The July 2007 death of Prosser, the former Wake Forest basketball coach, was a reminder to Stansbury about the importance of getting healthy for his three kids and his wife. He says he now eats Raisin Bran.

Prosser's heart attack at age 56 can't be directly linked to the stress of a college basketball coach, but the simple mention of his name more than a year later causes coaches to analyze the demands on their profession — and how they take care of themselves to meet those demands.

That doesn't mean they will change. Schools compensate coaches handsomely, and they also expect them to recruit, coach, teach, make calls and work tireless hours.

The number of national recruits to evaluate at various high schools and tournaments coupled with the grind of the season makes basketball coaching uniquely draining compared to other sports.

The lack of sleep doesn't help. Just ask Western Michigan Coach Steve Hawkins, who has had two seizures in the last two years because of a four-hour nightly sleep pattern. Now he forces himself to get seven to eight hours, turning off the game film by 11:30 p.m.

Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie said coaches talk a big game when it comes to their health, but they don't follow through like they should.

"I doubt if any coach is going to make sure he exercises and makes proper time like he should instead of going to see a recruit or schedule a practice at a certain time," said Gillispie, who said he works 16 hours a day on average.

Gillispie said a doctor has warned him about how to eat smart on the road by planning ahead and avoiding fast food. His latest obstacle is a 9 p.m. chips-and-salsa dinner.

"I don't know if we're killing ourselves, but we're probably taking years off our lives," Hawkins said. "If I have to trade three to five years off my life but I get to coach basketball all my life, I'd take that deal any day. You're affecting lives, and you're coaching a game."

Tom Jablonski, a physician for Central Florida athletics the last five seasons, said coaches who bottle up internal stress and don't take care of their bodies are at risk for high blood pressure, heart problems, depression and anxiety.

"It's a constant battle because you want to win, and you're always under the gun by the public," Jablonski said. "If you don't produce, people are always looking for the next-best coach. That weighs on a staff heavily."

Saturday's game between No. 25 Florida State and No. 7 Wake Forest is another chance to honor Prosser, who died at his coaching desk after a morning jog.

"Every time I wasn't in the office, I felt like I wasn't doing my job," Stansbury said. "Having children puts it in perspective. When they're 16 years old, I want to play one-on-one with them. I don't want to be able to not move. I've learned, as a coach, take time for it, everything's still going to be there for you in the off-season."

Stansbury was hospitalized in December with migraines and flu-like symptoms, but he recovered smoothly.

Miami (Ohio) Coach Charlie Coles suffered a heart attack during a game about 10 years ago but is still coaching. Former Ventura College Coach Greg Winslow retired last February after suffering from a stroke.

When asked about the demands on their time, a handful of Southeastern Conference coaches said in October they average about five to six hours of sleep per night through a given year and work between 12 and 16 hours per day.

Almost every coach has a horror story. New Mexico Coach Steve Alford said he once slept in a Chevy Malibu after catching a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Orlando between 12-hour Amateur Athletic Union tournament sessions. He typically grabs Wendy's or Carl's Jr. to eat on the road because of a lack of time.

"You're just sitting there in a car with nowhere to go," said Alford, laughing. "I've thought this has been out of hand for a long time."

Many coaches, including a handful from the Atlantic Coast Conference, were vocal after Prosser's death about easing the stress of recruiting. Breaks are scarce between April's Final Four to end a draining season and early August, when the summer AAU marathons end.

In January, the NCAA passed a bylaw that coaches can't recruit at non-scholastic events in April. The rule could cause more travel for smaller schools that can't scout numerous players at once.

"Every coach has a doctor, but coaches aren't good patients," Hawkins said. "Coaches aren't coachable. They're always worried that someone is outworking them, so they keep grinding."

South Carolina Coach and Tates Creek graduate Darrin Horn said in October he passed his last physical "with flying colors." He attributes part of that success to his Sundays-off philosophy with his program.

No team meeting or practices on that day. But Horn still sneaks in work.

"Especially after observing Coach Prosser and how he seemed to have a balance in his life, it makes you ask yourself how you can best utilize your time," Horn said. "There are a thousand things that you can do.

"Which ones are really going to bring you return?"