NFL Heartbreaks: Hero Coaches Are Sometimes Absentee Fathers

National Football League coaches who pour endless hours of time and emotion into nurturing their players often find hero worship on the field, but heartache at home.

In the world of professional sports -- where salaries and the pressure to win are always escalating -- family is often the first casualty.

Just this winter, the sons of several high-profile coaches raised Cain with the reputations of their revered fathers.

Andy Reid took a five-week hiatus as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles when his sons faced legal troubles after a January car accident. Garrett Reid, 23, tested positive for heroin, and Britt Reid, 21, was arraigned on drug and weapons charges.

Last October, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's 18-year-old son Stephen was arrested for marijuana possession.

Rebel children have not been confined to the NFL. North Carolina State basketball coach Sidney Lowe's 21-year-old son faces charges on crimes ranging from armed robbery to drug possession. Sidney Lowe Jr. was arrested in connection with an attempted robbery and dorm shooting in March.

In the image-conscious NFL, where the average coach's salary has soared past $2.5 million a year, these incidents of bad behavior are highly publicized, even though they are far more common among players than their children.

"These controlling men have far more control and influence over their players than they do over their children, and that is sad," writes Bill Conlin in New York's Daily News.

Heavy Workloads, Less Family Time

The 32 NFL coaches work 90-hour weeks from July to January "without a day off," according to Larry Kennan, who coached the Oakland Raiders for 16 years. Almost half of them change jobs each year, sending their families looking for new homes and schools.

But most children cope well, said Kennan, who founded and directs the NFL Coaches Association.

"They adapt like military kids and are not intimidated by people because they've been around great players and great coaches," he said. "The wives understand the profession and keep the family going well while we are out coaching."

Kennan doesn't deny the stakes are high for coaching performance. The NFL philosophy is "some is more, more is better and too much is just right," he said. "A lot of people have self-induced pressure, but they are not judged by a quarter million fans every Sunday."

"The job is unforgiving," Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick told reporters at the annual NFL meetings this year. "It never stops, and it doesn't let up for a second. It doesn't care if you've lost a family member, or you're dealing with difficulties. It does not stop, so you ask a lot of your family."

Counseling on Family Issues

College coaches have already begun to address family issues with counseling programs to help keep their families intact.

"We talk about balance and how it's not about the quantity of time you spend with your family, but the quality," said Steve Portenga, director of sports psychology at the University of Denver.

"Some athletic directors understand this, but others like to have meetings on weekends and Sundays because they believe having a family takes away from being a truly committed coach."

For the last two years, the NFL has worked with coaches on issues of stress as part of their employee assistance program, according to spokesman Dan Masonson, but the emphasis is primarily on how coaches should handle problems with player, not children.

Still, said Masonson, coaches are welcome to attend life skills classes conducted for players to help them "deal with family issues and the pressures of being in a high-profile position."

It is exactly these high-profile coaches who struggle most with parenting, especially their sons, said psychologist Ronald May of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of "The Challenge of Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys."

If fathers spend more time nurturing others -- like coaches who regard their players as surrogate sons and even ministers who tend to their parishioners -- that can spell trouble, according to May, who cites research on what is called the "hero father."

"He is larger than life, well-known and admired, and lots of people see him in positive terms," said May. "A father like that is virtually impossible to live up to, and sons give up on striving and achieving because they would only be second fiddle. There's a difference between what others think of him. He is great for the team, but often times, that is not the case at home."

Examining the Father-Son Relationship

The father-son relationship is complex, and only recently have psychologists begun to understand the importance of that bond. The physical presence of a father and the quality of time spent with a son are critical to his male identity and self-regulation of his behavior.

Often, a son is just looking for his father's attention.

"What the kid is doing in crime or drugs or acting out is often times a cry for help," said May. "On the one hand, there are kids -- if they have a more positive relationship -- who feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed for the father. Others get satisfaction from hurting him, but there is usually a sense of relief, and if kids feel neglected, their fathers take notice and things begin to be addressed."

Fathers provide their sons with the role model for "what a man is in the world and what they can aspire to," said May, and when a boy cannot find a suitable male role model at home, he often seeks one elsewhere.

Today there is no dearth of negative role models in professional sports, and both the NFL and NBA have spent millions on player development to curb bad behavior among their athletes.

Since the start of 2006, more than 50 NFL players have been arrested, prompting commissioner Roger Goodell to draft a revised conduct policy. On Tuesday, Goodell suspended the Tennessee Titans' Adam "Pacman" Jones for the 2007 season and the Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry for eight games.

During the NBA All-Star game weekend in February, Jones was allegedly involved in a strip club incident in which three people were shot and a security officer died. In 2006 alone, police arrested 11 Cincinnati Bengals for weapons possession, disorderly behavior and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Children Follow Players' Lead

Not only are coaches role models for their sons, but so are their players, say sports marketing experts. When professional athletes get in trouble, it sends a bad message to children, too.

"In general, whether they accept it or not, pro athletes are role models both on the field and off the field," said Doug Jacobs, president of Integrated Sports Marketing in Hoboken, N.J., who manages NFL players Mike Nugent of the New York Jets and Jared Allen of the Kansas City Chiefs.

When coaches' children scuffle with the law, "these are probably isolated incidents and obviously high profile," said Jacobs. "But it's a reflection of society and can happen to anyone -- investment bankers or people in entertainment who are not spending as much time with their kids as they'd like."

"Bill Belechick's son was caught with marijuana," said Jacobs. "Not to dismiss that, but it can happen to any 18-year-old."

That's true, said Michael Diamond, author of "My Father Before Me: How Fathers and Sons Influence Each Other Throughout Their Lives," but sons of absentee fathers can be particularly vulnerable in matters of self-control.

"The ways in which they manage their feelings, their self-esteem and their overall competence are affected," said Diamond, a Los Angeles psychologist. Boys who miss their fathers develop what he calls a "father hunger" and turn to "deleterious models."

Father Knows Best... If He's at Home

With a lot of debate on the impact of working parents who come home "emotionally drained or unavailable," most experts agree that children are always better off when the father is "more involved and takes an active role," Diamond said.

"It can be very challenging for boys of [famous] men," said Diamond. "You see this icon and you really don't get to be with him as a real person very much and the relationship becomes symbolic."

Still, said Diamond, a lot of families in sports have had "wonderful models."

Many new-age coaches manage -- despite the pressure and the burnout -- to maintain a thriving relationship with their children. New York Jets coach Eric Mangini, who at 35 is the youngest coach in the NFL, reads stories to his children on the phone when he is away from home.

And basketball coach Doc Rivers and his wife Kris decided not to uproot their four children from home and school in Orlando, Fla., when he took the coaching job with the Boston Celtics. He flies home after the games and comes back the day before the games on his private jet.

Rivers' son Jeremiah attends Georgetown University and played basketball on this year's Final Four team.

But even coaches who take great measures to protect their family time can't assure their children's safety.

Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, whose son committed suicide in 2005, is considered one of the most player-friendly coaches in the NFL because he respects family time. He doesn't work marathon hours and often takes his children to school.

Other coaches keenly recognize the workaholic nature of the NFL.

Billick, the Ravens' coach, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "There's not a one of us, whether it's the tragedy Tony Dungy went through… or what Andy's dealing with, that don't realize, 'Yeah, that's the life we're in and there, but for the grace of God, go I.'"