You know something’s amok when your cat starts looking at you cross-eyed. When your wife says, “You’re an idiot,” and you know she’s telling the truth. You know something’s wrong when you feel as if you drank battery acid for breakfast, when your insides hurt so bad you wonder if a rat’s gnawing on your gut.
You know because you’re no longer your happy-go-lucky smiling self. You’re a walking zombie, a whirlwind of stress. You can’t even remember the last time you laughed. Life used to be a kick, now life’s kicking you. You’re an avalanche of anxiety and everything close to you--family, friends, pets--is buried in your wake.
Such was the world of Loren Shumer, circa 1992. As the head football coach at Canyon High, Shumer was a stressball of meteoric proportions. It wasn’t football, per se, that made Shumer fume. It was all the nasty details that accompanied his position. Like dealing with players who had stupid excuses. Like dealing with the parents of players who had stupid excuses. Like dealing with boosters and administrators and the endless stream of know-it-alls who always want a piece of you.
And the paperwork? Merely piles from here to eternity. Insurance forms, permission slips, player rosters, grade checks . . . all that and more. It’s no wonder the world’s rain forests are biting the dust.
It got to the point last season where Shumer could barely sleep, such were the frustrations of football. He tossed and turned and the memories burned--of players forgetting their uniforms, of players showing up late for games, of players saying they missed practice because they just didn’t feel like showing up. Had Shumer tried to count sheep, the sheep no doubt would have just stood there and said: “But Coach Shumer, baaaa-aaah. We can’t practice today, baaaa-aaah. We’re just not, baaaa-aaah, in the mood . . . “
Jo Shumer couldn’t help but notice her husband’s agitation. Along with his lack of sleep, he was having bad headaches. Not even the couple’s three cats wanted anything to do with him.
“They’d just give me that little cross-eyed look and slink away,” Shumer says. As for his wife of nearly 17 years? “She’d look at me at times and know I was an idiot. She was right.”
The stress, Shumer said, played havoc with his stomach, but simple antacids weren’t doing the trick. Tums were too tame, Rolaids didn’t spell relief. By the time spring football rolled around in June, Shumer, 45, knew he had more than a queasy stomach. Extensive tests provided the facts: Shumer had two ulcers.
His doctor told him the ulcers were a result of his stress level. And his stress level--surprise, surprise--coincided with football season. In his four years as head coach, Shumer always started feeling horrible come fall. But as soon as the season ended? The pain would vanish, only to return with the start of spring practice.
That’s why, this summer, Shumer decided to step down as head coach. Defensive coordinator Bob Hughes became Canyon’s head coach, while Shumer stayed on in his favorite role, offensive coordinator.
The change, Shumer says, has been a tremendous boost. In many ways, he is starting anew. Being a head coach was a strain to his system--mentally as well as physically. He isn’t ashamed to admit it.
Some may call it a step down, Shumer doesn’t care. After all, it’s only high school football, not a spot on the Supreme Court. Certainly, there are head coaches around the county who see themselves as special, who put their egos above everything else, who run their football programs as if it were their own little kingdoms. Shumer was never one of them.
He says being an assistant is all right with him. Especially since he has been relieved of the head coach’s continual worries.
“I don’t care about our special teams now, I don’t care about what happens with our defense, I don’t care about the parents, I don’t care about the booster club,” he says with a laugh.
“I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Oh! Did I get that roster over to so and so?’ or ‘Why are those parents so loony?’ I don’t even talk to the parents anymore. I’ve only gone to one booster function--a breakfast--and I’m not going to another one to save my life.”
Instead, he tries to reduce his stress level whenever possible. If this means treating football practice like an afternoon at the beach, so be it. Shumer shows up with a canvas hat on his head and a big water bottle at his side. And even though it only puts him at knee-level with his players, he now does most of his coaching . . . from a beach chair.
The lowly assistant?
That’s right. And proud of it.