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24 hours, 7 days a week

It's only a slight exaggeration of how often football coaches work.

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 28, 2002

[Times file photo]
Hillsborough football coach Earl Garcia said he can get by on just a few hours of sleep a day.
TAMPA -- The game has been over for two hours.

The parking lots are empty.

Players have celebrated and gone home.

And Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia is alone in his office making copies of the recently recorded game on 22 VCRs to give to his assistants the next morning.

If he's lucky, Garcia might get three hours of sleep (he says he needs only 1 1/2-2) before returning to the field house to meet with his assistants for a full Saturday of work.

While Garcia has a reputation as a hard worker, his dedication is not uncommon in the competitive world of Florida high school football. The season rarely allows time for sleep, families or fun.

It's all about the game.

And the clock is ticking.

The next game is less than a week away.

"So many times I've caught myself," Garcia said. "We go out and shake hands after our ballgame, and before I've reached the street, I've turned the page."

A coach's work seemingly is never done.

Even after the tapes have been viewed, game plans installed, practices completed and games played, there is laundry to be done, a field to paint, a junior varsity game to scout (and sometimes a freshman scrimmage to officiate), a booster club meeting to attend and media to accommodate.

The job can strain a coach's health, family and happiness. Still, many coaches say the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices and they can't (or won't) tear themselves away from a game they have been around for most of their lives.

"They push themselves beyond reasonable limits for most of us," said Dr. Kerry McCord, a Pinellas-based stress expert who treats NFL players such as Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski. "Most of us don't work the kind of hours generally most of them put in."

Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden gets up daily at 3:17 a.m. and returns home late at night. He works weekends and holidays. But he is rewarded richly in the form of a five-year, $17.5-million contract.

High school coaches work upwards of 40 hours a week in addition to their regular jobs for an annual supplemental salary of $3,000 to $3,500. Assistants make about half as much.

At 40 hours a week, a coach with a $3,000 supplement pulls in about $1.50 an hour.

"You don't do it for the money because you love what you're doing," Central coach John Wilkinson said. "Our coaches would do it for free. I'm sure that's the way it is around the state."

Fans see only what happens on Friday nights in the fall. But that is where the work starts for coaches.

Most follow a similar routine, one that starts with a tape exchange with the upcoming opponent late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Coaches meet with their staffs each Saturday and review the tape from the night before. They chart plays, collect statistics, grade players and look for ways to improve. When they are done, they break down tape of their next opponent, looking for formations, tendencies, anything for an edge.

Everything is logged into a computer, and a game plan is formulated based on the information. Many coaches return Sunday to finish their statistics, wash uniforms and adjust the game plan.

The game plan is finalized late Sunday night and presented to the players Monday.

Monday starts a week of film, weight work, meetings and practices, usually culminating with a walk-through the day before the game. Garcia puts his players through an hour-long rehearsal at full speed, down to the final, frenzied two-minute drill.

Players don't leave school Friday, so coaches stay to take attendance, oversee the pregame meal, conduct meetings, distribute uniforms and tape players before heading out to the field for pregame warmups.

[Times photo: Stephen Coddington]
Lecanto coach Dick Slack changed his priorities after stress led to passing out on the practice field and having an angioplasty five years ago.

Win or lose, the cycle repeats after the game.

"I normally get to sleep at about 2," East Bay coach Brian Thornton said. "To wind down a little bit, I might breeze through the tape before I go to bed. If we played well and it was not a close game, I might not. If we played poorly, almost always."

Lecanto assistant Ron Allan said he and head coach Dick Slack want to give their team every opportunity to be successful.

"If it means you watch tape for five hours, then we'll go watch tape for five hours," Allan said. "If it means spending time away from your family, you've got to do what you've got to do."

At Hillsborough, preparation and success go hand-in-hand.

"If you talk to our opponents, they say we're loaded with Division I talent at every position," Garcia said. "That's untrue. We're loaded with people who are committed, with players and coaches that are committed. And I think preparation is a tremendous part of our success here."

The Terriers have won 93 games in Garcia's 10 seasons. More than 70 players have gone on to play in college, including at Florida, Syracuse and Notre Dame.

Players lift weights year-round and make their grades.

Garcia, who teaches work experience at Hillsborough, said football knowledge is overrated when it comes to coaching. The first thing he does before interviewing a prospective assistant is hand him a copy of his yearly schedule.

"I've had guys look at it before we even start interviewing and say, 'I can't do this,"' Garcia said.

Those who do seldom see their families.

Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare doesn't get home until between 3 and 5 a.m. on a game night. He misses most of the volleyball matches of his daughters, Brittany and Brooke, and is lucky to take his family out to dinner once a month.

Garcia missed many of the Little League games of his son, Earl III, and saw the halftime dance routine of his daughter, Shana, only when Hillsborough played Gaither, where she went to school.

"For the first six years, my son called any man he saw in shorts, 'Dad,' because when I got home, he was asleep," Garcia said. "And when I left, he was asleep."

A sign in the Garcias' second bedroom reads, "We interrupt this marriage for football season."

Only football season never ends.

"When the weather is cool, you have games," Garcia's wife, Gilda, said. "Other than that, you have weightlifting and conditioning. There is no offseason."

Garcia's only time off is between the time Hillsborough is eliminated from the playoffs and the start of the offseason program, usually no more than a week.

He and Gilda spend it at a time share in the mountains or their condominium on Treasure Island. But Garcia won't leave home without his briefcase and cannot go more than a day or two before getting restless.

Castelamare gets just as antsy when his family travels to Michigan for a couple of weeks during the summer.

"He can handle about a week. Then he has to get back," said Castelamare's wife and River Ridge volleyball coach, Heidi. "Last year, he didn't make it that long."

[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Central coach John Wilkinson guides the offensive line during a predawn practice.

Gilda Garcia said the key to keeping families together is getting them involved with the team.

When her children were younger, she took them to the field for picnics during two-a-days. Slack's wife, Nancy, helps him paint the field.

Heidi Castelamare sometimes takes food to the Wesley Chapel coaches on game nights before leaving at halftime to take her daughters to River Ridge so they can watch their school play.

"If the family doesn't feel a part of it, they begin to reject and resent the amount of time (the coach) has to spend away from home," Gilda Garcia said. "If they're part of it, it doesn't feel so hard."

Time away from home is not the job's only drawback.

The hours involved, along with the ever-increasing pressure to win and changing responsibilities in an age of school violence, drugs and broken families, can lead to stress and, ultimately, deteriorating health.

Lakewood's Brian Bruch, a self-described perfectionist, remembers going "ballistic" when a player lost a 22-cent mouthpiece.

Thornton has had ulcers. Lack of sleep leaves Castelamare drained by season's end. Five years ago, Slack started having migraines and passed out on the practice field. He was taken to a hospital and had an angioplasty.

Doctors could not determine the cause of Slack's problems. He blames stress.

Slack began to change his priorities.

"I was up there at Shands (hospital) and worried about getting out of there because I've got to get back to pregame. And the guy's telling me he thinks I'm going to have an aneurysm and I'm going to die," Slack said. "It kind of gets your priorities in order a little bit."

Slack said his job got easier when he worried less about wins and losses and more about teaching.

"There's no way I could have kept going the way I was," Slack said. "It would have eaten me alive, and that's what burns a lot of people out. You get so wrapped up in it that it becomes your whole identity; how successful your 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids are on Friday night.

"It's not how successful they are on Friday night. It's what they're learning and what kind of people they are when they come back in 10-15 years. If you get that kind of perspective, it kind of changes the pressure a little bit."

McCord said coaches expose themselves to physical, chemical and emotional stresses that can compromise their immune systems, resulting in illness and, in extreme cases, heart disease, cancer or a stroke.

A lack of control over what happens on the field is one thing that makes coaching so draining, McCord said.

"You're talking about a huge amount of stress to perform and accomplish at a particular level, some of which you have less control over than you'd like," McCord said.

"You can't go over there and play for the players. But you have to push and create a team that wins and then deal with the personalities and the troubles of younger people."

Why do they do it?

Garcia decided by age 13 he wanted to coach. Slack played at Upper Iowa University until an injury forced him into coaching.

Thornton's father was a coach. Wilkinson has been around the sport since he was 6.

"Football was king where I'm from," said Wilkinson, who grew up in Merritt Island. "And you grew up wanting to play at your high school."

By his early teens, Wilkinson knew he wanted to coach. At the time, he believed coaches went home when the players did and had weekends off.

Now he can't keep football off his mind.

"Little problems will pop up or something you think you forgot," he said. "You're worried about punt protection or kickoff return. There's probably some aspect you're thinking of 24 hours a day. You're probably dreaming about it, too."

Rewards come on Friday nights: when their teams win, players progress and plans are executed successfully.

But winning is only a short-term fix.

"We've sort of got a motto that's been mine since I've been a head coach. We don't count victories in terms of wins and losses," Bruch said. "We count victories in terms of the impact we have on young people's lives."

Bruch has sent players such as Cornell Green (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Aveion Cason (Detroit Lions) and Tim Carter (New York Giants) to the NFL.

But he might be more excited about former players such as Andy Gray, who recently completed fighter pilot training, and Jarvin Vinson, a recent graduate of the fire academy.

Garcia gets sentimental when talking about George Shivers and Ryan Kuruc, seniors who came into the program with modest size and skills but worked their way into the starting lineup.

"Winning is not the No. 1 job satisfier to me," Garcia said. "I think it's neat to be an important part of a young man's life. And our coaches are so important to our players.

"I think it is so gratifying to watch a ninth-grade boy come in and leave a 12th-grade man and to have had a little part of that."

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