Don’t stress out: Mesa coaches have various ways to relieve tension
A big hug from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, is just what Mesa State College volleyball coach Dave Fleming needs some days.
Football coach Joe Ramunno loves watching his 13-year-old son, Niko, play football, or hanging out with his 11-year-old daughter, Calli.
Women’s soccer coach Erin Sharpe goes on a long hike with her dog. Women’s basketball coach Roger Walters hits the golf course.
During the season, college coaches put in long hours and fret over every detail of their programs.
When Michigan State football coach Mike Dantonio had a mild heart attack after the Spartans’ 34-31 overtime victory Sept. 18 over Notre Dame, coaches all around the country took notice.
“You get so involved in everything,” Ramunno said. “You get games like that, you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack all the time. The pressure, the preparation, the hours, and if you’re not eating right, not sleeping right ... coaching is a tough profession on your body, it really is.”
Ramunno had hip and knee replacement surgery after last season and still can’t lift weights like he used to, which was one way he relieved stress.
“Now I just run up and down the stairs,” he said, laughing. “You do have to do something to alleviate it.
“What does relieve it for me is being around (football). I love it when I get film time with players, that relieves stress. Practice is a great stress reliever. You’ve got control of it.”
The stress comes from winning and losing games and the hours coaches spend preparing. It’s common for Ramunno to show up at The Maverick Center by 5:30 a.m.
His staff starts meeting at 6 a.m., then there are classes to teach, film to break down, practices to plan, game plans to prepare, then, finally, practice for 2-3 hours, followed by weights, more meetings and wrapping up the day.
“I try to get home most of the time by 6, 6:30, but you know how that goes,” Ramunno said. “Sometimes it goes later than that. I used to do more hours, but I want to see my kids.”
The volleyball team practices in the mornings, so Fleming shows up for work between 5:30 and 6 a.m., depending on the day. It leaves his afternoons free to watch Sarah’s soccer practice or go for a hike with his family, but there are still high school volleyball games to watch as part of the recruiting process.
The facilities at Mesa State make it easier for coaches to work out, whether it’s lifting weights, running or walking on the indoor track, a game of racquetball or playing “noon ball,” a pickup basketball game three days a week in the Hamilton Recreation Center.
Fleming, men’s basketball coach Jim Heaps and head trainer Josh Fullmer are regulars in the noon game, as is one of Fleming’s assistant coaches, David Skaff.
“I do feel better when I work out,” Fleming said. “I have been eating better this year. I tend to gain a little weight during the season, but so far, so good this year. My first trigger when I’m not feeling right is food, which it shouldn’t be.
“We’ve had heart problems in my family, and stress levels. It’s not a job you don’t take home with you. If you love what you do, it’s the whole week.”
Like Ramunno, Fleming says practice is a good release because the coaches can put their plan to work.
“It isn’t a 40-hour week. Sitting at your desk or computer, sitting anywhere, in the car, you can’t sleep at night, you’re thinking about your team and how you can make it better,” Fleming said. “That’s all right. We signed a contract and this is what we love to do, but I wouldn’t say it’s a low-stress job.”
Sharpe, 30, is just starting her coaching career, and when she’s not coaching the Mavs, she’s one of the directors of the Grand Junction Soccer Club. She’s also taking classes for her master’s degree.
“Days off are very much healthy for the coaching staff, just as healthy for us as the players,” she said. “I’ll go off for a run or hike with my dog. Outside of that, it’s pretty tough.
“A lot of people don’t put it in perspective that during the season, we work seven days a week, with games on the weekend.
“Even a day off isn’t entirely a day off.”
Walters lives in Rifle, so the hour drive home each evening helps him unwind. He’s an avid golfer, and watches his two daughters, Taylor, 16, and Elly, 11, play softball, soccer, basketball and golf.
“I do forget a little bit about the real world when I’m out there (on the golf course),” Walters said.
“I like to mow the yard. That gives me time to think. I have a big yard, so that gives me time to think about stuff. It’s always there, though.”
Walters said his stress level rose last year because the Mavericks weren’t as successful as he wanted to be in his first season. Once he finished recruiting his first true team, he felt better, and couldn’t wait for practice to start this month.
“That’s the fun place to be, is practice with the kids,” he said.
The male coaches who are married give all the credit to their wives for keeping an eye on them, whether it’s how they eat or how they feel, along with handling things at home during the season.
“God bless our wives,” Ramunno said. “Sandy keeps everything rolling.”
At times, Fleming said he just needs a day in front of the TV, but if his wife, Fran, wants to go for a hike or do some shopping, he’ll go — as long as she doesn’t tell him ahead of time.
That way, he doesn’t start planning for the outing, he just goes and has fun.
The coaches spend so much time away from home, they make the most of their family time.
“The biggest stress reliever for me was getting a hug from my daughter when I got home,” Fleming said of the Mavs’ 0-3 road trip earlier this season. “I think that’s it, not forgetting you have a family and spending as much time with them as possible.
“My daughter doesn’t care if I win or lose. That’s a big help for me. I still wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking about volleyball and what I could have done better, but she’s a great stress reliever. She’s very good at that.”