Typically, the only time we see or hear about coaches taking time to focus on their health it is at a press conference about them stepping away from the sidelines. The coaching lifestyle and everything that comes with it is more than enough to grind even the toughest guys down to a nub with health issues.
That alone is part of the reason Pat Narduzzi has a policy in place for his staff to all get mandatory checkups before the start of spring practices. Little did he know, that unpopular policy very likely helped save the life of one of his coordinators heading into this season, as the Post-Gazette shared today.
The policy was something that Narduzzi started his first season leading the program back before the 2015 season. Most of the staff would grumble about it under their breathes thinking that they're in great health, but the night before spring ball this past season, Narduzzi told a few coaches, including defensive coordinator Randy Bates, to head down a flight of stairs to see a team physician.
It was there that the doctor found a lump on Bates' throat. They did an X-ray, and then a biopsy on the bump, followed by a special PET scan to find out where the cancer had spread to, and where it originated. That scan found cancer cells in his tonsils and lymph nodes.
Thankfully, because of that unique policy Narduzzi decided to implement at his first head coaching job after losing his father to cancer at age 51, Bates was able to catch his cancer early enough to where the survival rate was above 90% with treatment.
Bates had surgery and knew that a long struggle to remission laid ahead with the season looming, and shared the news with everyone in the program about the road filled with radiation and other daunting treatments that laid ahead. The one thing that he asked during that meeting was that they keep his diagnosis among themselves in the building. Somehow, in an age of social media where more gets out publicly than most want to know, they were able to do just that.
While battling all of that, Bates, the players, and the defensive staff played inspired football all year and Pitt fielded one of the best defenses in college football.
On December 14th, as the team was about to go through their first preseason practice leading into today's Quick Lane Bowl game against Eastern Michigan, Narduzzi shared the news with the team that Bates was officially cancer free.
Bates and his top 10-ranked Panther defense will take on Eastern Michigan tonight at 8pm EST.
The Post-Gazette does a great job of telling Bates' really inspirational story of the past year or so. Head here to read it all.