Curt Cignetti is well aware of the stress his body takes by being a college football coach.
That’s why coming to IUP from the hectic world of Division I football was a welcomed change in January 2011, when the then-49-year-old Cignetti was hired to take over the Crimson Hawks.
He had spent three decades in the Division I rat race, and as he says, “I was kind of tired.”
The rest of the sports world got to know this week about the stress of the football coaching profession when two notable NFL bosses, Denver’s John Fox and Houston’s Gary Kubiak, were sidelined with health issues. There have also been several college coaches who have been idled by stress, including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
Those incidents led many coaches across the country to do a self-evaluation of their health in terms of on-the-job stress.
But Cignetti says being a football coach comes with stress, and everyone who does it knows that fact.
“At every level you go up, there’s more and more stress,” says Cignetti, who coached at Alabama, North Carolina State, Pitt, Temple, Rice and Davidson before coming to IUP. “There’s a lot of stress at every level, and that’s the stress you put on yourself to be successful.”
The key, Cignetti said, is managing your time. Although he works a ton of hours during the season, Cignetti is less busy in the offseason, which is a 180-degree change from his Division I days.
Back then, he worked 100-hour weeks, 50 weeks a year, and rarely experienced a quiet evening at home.
“I’m still doing 80 hours, at least, a week here,” he says, “but the offseason here is a lot more relaxed.”
During the season, Cignetti says he is in his office around 6 a.m., and he spends the day managing the team until after practice, around 6 p.m.
Then, he heads home for dinner, talks with his wife, Manette, and their three children, for a bit and then comes back to the office to prepare for the next day.
He then heads home somewhere between 9 and 11 p.m.
Hectic, yes. But that sure beats the Division I grind that goes on seven days a week.
At Alabama, Cignetti worked for Nick Saban, who is known for keeping a grueling schedule that rarely allows for a free moment to catch up. That’s the same pace Cignetti kept during his years with the Crimson Tide, and he doesn’t miss it one bit.
“I saw this as a good opportunity to run my own program and also have a little more free time with my family,” Cignetti says.
Although Cignetti is fortunate enough to have no serious health issues related to his job, he knows running at a hectic 100-hour pace wasn’t healthy.
But in this business, where wins and losses separate the good coaches from the bad, there’s always pressure to win on Saturdays. And that’s something all coaches are aware of.
“It’s a competitive game played by competitive people,” he says. “People are going to work hard to find an edge. That’s the name of the game. Every day, you’re trying to find an edge on the opposition.”
And at the end of the day, it sure beats having a real job.
“I think everybody who has been through the routine gets it,” he says. “You just do. But we love what we do. We have passion for it.”