HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Stress one of biggest coaching hazards

2012-03-28T00:00:00Z 2012-12-04T14:00:59Z Greg Hansen: Stress one of biggest coaching hazardsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In my first year of high school, our baseball team played at Worthington Field. Our football team played at the Worthington Park complex. My first high school PE teacher was "Coach Worthington."

It didn't occur to me that this man, Glen "Zeus" Worthington, was the man after whom my schoolboy field of dreams had been named. I just remember thinking he was really old.

He was 61.

During my junior year, I walked into the cafeteria for lunch just as Coach Worthington toppled backward, off his chair. He was dead by the time an ambulance arrived. I just stood there, young and dumb.

His coaching whistle was still around his neck.

I strongly remember reading his obituary in the next day's newspaper. Zeus Worthington might have been the finest athlete in the first half-century of Utah, 1900-1950. He was a four-year letterman for the Utah State Aggies in football, basketball and track. He had been coaching at my high school for 30 years, and I didn't know a thing about him.

The obituary mentioned that in addition to coaching three sports at Logan High School, he was also chairman of the Logan Golf and Country Club, director of the city's summer recreation program and was looking forward to retirement.

But at 61, he was lying on the cafeteria floor, dead, surrounded by a bunch of naïve high school kids who hadn't taken the time to appreciate what the "old coach" had accomplished.

I later met his son, Jack, who traded at my dad's gas station, and I remember Jack Worthington telling me his dad died of far more than a heart attack. He had died from the accumulation of stress, almost all of it self-imposed, a lifetime of coaching three sports in which Glen Worthington did not compromise his standards. He literally lived and died for his school.

When I heard that UA softball coach Mike Candrea was taken by ambulance from Sunday's UA-ASU game, I felt the same sense of dread that overwhelmed me 40 years ago in the cafeteria at Logan High School.

Candrea is 56 years young. He hasn't taken his foot off the accelerator since he coached at Central Arizona College 30 years ago.

In those long-ago days, Candrea worked in an office next to Norm Patton, who became something of a legendary high school and JC basketball coach at Marana, Pima College and, finally, CAC. Now Patton's granddaughter, Kenzie Fowler, is Candrea's star pitcher.

"Mike was just as driven as a young coach as he is now; he doesn't back off," Patton said Tuesday. "But you just can't go at that pace forever and ever.

"We've talked. This has been an extremely hard year for him; he has five freshmen, and Kenzie has been sick for a couple of weeks. When (outfielder) Karissa Buchanan suffered a concussion at ASU, he just looked at me and said, 'Can you believe this, Norm; will it never end?'"

A few minutes later Candrea was in the hospital.

Patton retired from coaching when he was 55. He had been going without a break for 32 years and, he says now, "knew something was wrong."

The doctor put him in the hospital and performed heart surgery (three bypasses). Had Patton kept coaching, he wouldn't have lived to see retirement.

"I didn't take time to pay attention to much more than coaching," Patton said. "I was close, boy, to not making it. It all added up: 30 years of coaching, you just never shut down. The pressure kept me up at night. I was fortunate to get out when I did.

"Mike will now have some tough choices to make."

A lot of high-profile coaches in the Pac-12 chose to walk away rather than let the stress and pressure continue to eat at them. UCLA football coach Terry Donahue resigned at 51. Washington's great Don James quit at 60. Oregon's Mike Bellotti stepped down at 58.

UA Hall of Fame baseball coach Jerry Kindall said he lost his willingness to live the 24/7 coaching cycle and retired at 61.

Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez knows what it is to feel the way Candrea did Sunday.

On the Florida Gators' return flight to Gainesville from a 1996 baseball series at South Carolina, Lopez told the team doctor he was experiencing chest pains. The plane made an emergency landing in Savannah, Ga.

"It was tenseness and stress, tight this and tight that," Lopez says now. An hour later he was in a strange hospital with an IV in his arm. He was 42.

In the summer of 2009, while driving to his on-campus summer camp, Lopez felt the tightness again. He drove into the Tucson Medical Center emergency lane and spent the night hospitalized.

Down time? Relaxation? The suggestion makes him shake his head.

"Two summers ago I took my wife to Lake Tahoe for five days," he says. "It was the first vacation we've had since we were married 29 years ago. Ironically, it was July 1, the first day you can officially contact recruits. So I would drive from our cabin to the top of the mountain to make recruiting calls."

I look at Lopez now, pitching batting practice, 58 going on 48, athletic and full of life. He looks so different than the 61-year-old Coach Worthington of my high school days.

Lopez and his wife went back to Lake Tahoe last summer and plan to return again this year.

This time I hope he spends two weeks.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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