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NFL coaches finally enjoy the down time that doesn't need to be so rare

Unlike players, NFL coaches don't get time off between the end of the season and the start of the offseason program in the spring. They spend most of that time wrapping up the previous season before evaluating NFL players for free agency and prospects for the draft. The only true time off for coaches is over the next four weeks. But should their jobs be so grueling, particularly during the season? Let's examine:

• Is it even productive? A lot of times it's not. More than one coach has told me about hours upon hours they have sat in their office doing nothing, just in case the head coach stops by and needs something. Plus it would look like they weren't working as hard if they left before the other coaches. It is the worst form of male machismo.

Maybe there is a team or a coach who will be innovative enough to realize the answer in most situations is to work smarter, not longer. Have they read any of the studies about the amount of sleep needed to operate at peak performance? If you ask me, coaches could watch film so often that they eventually lose focus, and the energy they really need to have in meetings and on the field could dwindle.

• The culture needs to change. I once played for a general manager who used to boast that he often arrived at the office by 4 a.m., yet could never get there before the defensive coordinator. It is well documented how many coaches sleep in their offices. Even the ones who go home only sleep four or five hours before heading back in to watch more film and put in more work.

Coaches wear the amount of time they work as badges of honor. I'm not sure how or why it got started, but it has been that way as long as I have been around pro football. It is the culture of coaching at a high level and there is no end in sight.

I've had more than one ex-player-turned-coach tell me the one way to change the culture is from the inside. Good luck. It would take a lot of coaches willing to buck the trend and risk their job security to make that happen. But maybe there is some hope.

"It really comes down to the head coach," said former linebacker Carl Banks, who spent time coaching with the New York Jets under then coach Bill Parcells. "Some of them believe their [assistants] should pretty much always be there, yet others will actually send their guys home at times."

• At least it's better than college. The funny thing about the insane hours NFL coaches work, particularly from July through January, is that coaches still prefer it over the hours their brethren in big-time college football put in. The big difference? Recruiting.

Talk to any coach who has done both, especially recently, and he'll tell you he prefers the NFL, despite some of the recent pension pullbacks. That's because they at least have some time when they can let it go and relax, like the next couple of weeks offer.

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That isn't the case in college football ,where recruiting never ends. Ever. If it isn't camps in the summer, it is taking a recruit out to dinner after the game on Saturday, when all the coach really wants to do is spend some time with his own family and unwind.

Mail time ...

Ross, I read your latest column and enjoyed the perspectives. It did make me wonder, however, is the NFL really a bunch of individuals playing together or do the players meld together to become a team? At what point does team enter the picture with most players? It seems to be about the individual mostly.--Rick B., Columbia, Mo.

I often tell people that football is a team game but at the NFL level it is very much an individual business. There is very little loyalty from the organizations themselves, perhaps rightfully so from a financial perspective. As such, most players focus primarily on what is in their best interest. That doesn't mean the two always have to be mutually exclusive, however.

With the growing concern over the issue of concussions, and the seeming inevitability of the move to the 18-game season, why isn't there at least some discussion of the NFLPA getting language put into the new collective bargaining agreement that would put a limit on the number of days in a season players are allowed to have contact in practice?--Scott, Fresno, Calif.

For an 18-game season to work, there is no doubt in my mind that adjustments would need to be made to practice routines, recovery time and roster size, among other things.

Re: concussion concerns & line play: would you want a son to play o-line or d-line? Another position? Or another sport?--@LukePWright via Twitter

The more I read and hear about the latest concussion research, from groups like the Sports Legacy Institute and the new NFL players panel led by Seahawks WR Sean Morey, the scarier it gets. At this point, I don't know if I would want my son to play football at all. That said, I love the game dearly and miss it every day.

Would you watch football with replacement players if the labor problems are not resolved?--@xjohnq via Twitter

I probably would check it out, more from a curiosity perspective to see if I know any of the guys playing and what the fan reaction would be. Let's all hope it doesn't come to that.