There are few jobs more time-consuming, more pressure-filled and more life-changing than that of an NFL head coach, and there is one disturbing statistic to underscore that unfortunate reality: Four NFL coaches have been hospitalized this season.
The Jets said Friday that coach Todd Bowles had been hospitalized and was in stable condition. The team did not disclose the illness. If he misses Saturday’s game at New England, he will become the third coach to miss a game.
The health of coaches and players transcends what happens on the football field, and Bowles’ struggles in Year 2 of his run with the Jets are secondary to his health. You never want to see anything like this, and we wish Bowles a speedy recovery and return to the sideline.
If Bowles misses the game against the Patriots, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will take over the head-coaching duties, with defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers calling the plays on defense in place of Bowles, who didn’t travel with the team Friday.
The Vikings’ Mike Zimmer missed a game after ungoing emergency eye surgery and Gary Kubiak of the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos missed one after a precautionary hospitalization. When Kubiak was the Texans’ head coach, he suffered a stroke during a game but resumed coaching after getting a clean bill of health. Bowles’ coaching mentor, Bruce Arians of the Cardinals, was hospitalized twice this season but did not miss a game.
The stressful lifestyle of any NFL coach is unrelenting, but particularly so for the head coach, who routinely works 18-hour days. Bowles never complains about the rigors of the job and told no one outside his family and a few people with the Jets that he had a growth the size of a golf ball removed from his neck last year. He didn’t miss a game and publicly admitted that he had undergone surgery only after the season was over.
Bowles’ hospitalization is just the latest misfortune in a 4-10 season gone wrong for the Jets, but this is a moment that supersedes the record, or even the individual performances of the players who have been such a disappointment in a year of failure. Bowles is a coach who never seeks the limelight and never demands the attention that other coaches revel in, but he is universally respected by coaches, players and executives alike.
We don’t know what his current condition will mean in terms of his coaching future with the team. Although there has been no indication that team owner Woody Johnson has planned any major shake-up involving Bowles or general manager Mike Maccagnan, Johnson still is capable of making a move. Don’t forget, he once told Eric Mangini during the 2008 season that his job was safe, but after the team spiraled downward from an 8-3 record to 9-7, Johnson fired Mangini and eventually hired Rex Ryan.
Bowles had been groomed to be a head coach for several years, drawing praise from Arians, Bill Parcells and other coaches and players he’s worked with over the years.
He has brushed aside speculation about his future with the Jets, often joking that any coach who is hired is by definition on the hot seat because of the expectations associated with winning. He most certainly has the inner resolve to deal with all the problems afflicting his team and is the first to understand all that has gone wrong this season.
The season began with great anticipation after Ryan Fitzpatrick returned on a one-year contract, but it became clear very early on that this would be a struggle, and the Jets’ 1-5 start against a difficult slate of competition set the stage for the bottoming out they’re experiencing.
Fitzpatrick was benched for Geno Smith, who suffered a season-ending injury in his first start. Fitzpatrick then was benched again, with the Jets looking to next year by going with Bryce Petty. But with so many injuries along the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, and the deterioration of Darrelle Revis’ play, the problems have become insurmountable.
Whether or not Bowles gets to address those problems down the road remains to be seen. The hope here is that he at least has the chance from a physical standpoint to get the job done if Johnson sees fit to bring him back in 2017.