NFL Coaching Culture Boosts Heart Risk

John Fox and Gary Kubiak were sidelined by health scares.

ByABC News
November 4, 2013, 10:38 AM

Nov. 4, 2013— -- Two veteran NFL coaches were sidelined by health scares this weekend, highlighting the occupational hazards of one of professional sport's most stressful jobs.

Denver Broncos coach John Fox, 58, is set to have surgery to fix a faulty heart valve this week –- an ordeal he hoped to postpone until the offseason. And Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, 52, is recovering after collapsing on the field during halftime of Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

It's unclear what caused Kubiak to fall to his knees with a strained expression on his face, his team revealing only that he did not have a heart attack. But experts say NFL coaches are prime candidates for heart problems because of the stressful nature of the game.

"A stressful job is one where there's a high demand to produce some kind of product, like a touchdown or a win, and low control over how that demand is met," said Dr. Redford Williams, director of Duke University's Behavioral Medicine Research Center. "If your team is losing and you're in a position of possibly losing your job, that can be a major source of stress."

Like High Cholesterol, Overtime Work Boosts Heart Disease

Indeed most NFL coaches embody the "type A" personality consistently tied to heart disease, according to Williams.

"You've got to be aggressive to be out there," he said, adding that short tempers and aggressive tendencies raise the risk of heart disease. But there are other risk factors, too.

"If you have a scare, you should take it as a signal," Williams said. "The good news is you've come through it. And the further good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk, like eat a healthy diet, make sure your weight's in a healthy range and exercise regularly."

There are even ways to improve your ability to cope with stress, according to Williams, who co-founded a stress management program with his wife, Virginia.

"When something distresses you ask yourself these four questions: 'Is this important?' If the answer's 'yes' then ask, 'Is my reaction reasonable?' If so ask, 'Is the situation modifiable?' and if so ask yourself, 'Would it be worth making the effort to change the situation?" Williams explained. "A 'no' to any of these questions means you need to chill out."

Asking those questions could help coaches cut down on their stress by removing some of the pressure, Williams said.

"If the game is already lost, you can't change that," he said. "But sometimes you need to do something, like if your quarterback has just thrown two interceptions. Is it important? Yes. Is it appropriate to be upset? Yes. Is the situation modifiable? Yes. And is it worth taking the action? Yes. You've got four yeses. Pull the guy and call in a new quarterback."

Super Bowl: Which City Can Better Survive a Loss?

With their 7-1 record, the Denver Broncos are widely considered Super Bowl favorites. But the Houston Texans have lost six straight games, falling behind from a 21-3 lead when Kubiak collapsed Sunday to lose 27-24.

The Texans are hopeful that Kubiak will be back at practice today, while the Broncos' Fox is expected to miss several weeks after his heart surgery.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.