Ken Hitchcock's specialty is Civil War history, but he knows a thing or two about the Battle Of The Bulge as well.
Once, when he was coaching the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, Mr. Hitchcock tipped the scales at what his doctor estimated was 475 pounds. That was just a guess, too, because the scale only went up to 400 pounds. The message though resonated for Mr. Hitchcock: If he wanted to live a long life -- and move forward in his coaching career -- he would need to get his weight under control.
In 1989, at the age of 38, he decided that he needed to turn his life around -- or possibly see it come to a premature end. So he began a diet plan, and in conjunction with a regular exercise program, lost 100 pounds over a two-year period.
From there, he moved on from junior hockey to Philadelphia, joining the Flyers as an assistant coach. Mr. Hitchcock then carried around 300 pounds on a five-foot-11 frame and although he wasn't gaining any more weight, he wasn't losing any more either.
Accordingly, in June of 1995, Mr. Hitchcock decided to make another push and brought his weight down to about 220. Since then, he has been able to keep the weight off with a disciplined approach that features no gimmicks -- just a strict adherence to diet and exercise.
"For me, I exercise every day," Mr. Hitchcock, now 52, explained in an interview at the Flyers' practice facility. "It's like religion for me. If I don't do it, then mentally, I don't feel right. I get frustrated more easily. . . . I know some people believe you should take a day off from exercise, but I don't. I change it up, but I cardio train every day, for a minimum of an hour. Sometimes, on game days, I'll do an hour at our training facility and then I'll walk for an hour at home. Then I do weights three times a week."
Like a lot of busy people, Mr. Hitchcock needs to get up early in the morning (5:15 a.m.) in order to fit in his workout regimen.
"Diet-wise, I just avoid three things: alcohol, fried foods, and I try to eliminate starches every day," added Mr. Hitchcock. "I know the coaches I go out to dinner with think I'm the most bland guy in the world in terms of eating. It's always salad with chicken or salad with turkey. That's just who I am."
Mr. Hitchcock is considered one of the premier coaches in the NHL. An associate coach on Pat Quinn's staff for Canada's 2002 Olympic gold-medal winning team, he led the 1999 Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup.
Off the ice, Mr. Hitchcock is a Civil War enthusiast, who has participated in re-enactments of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Siege of Vicksburg.
As a teenager, he played hockey, golf, and swam competitively and once admitted that he was a better hockey player at age 14 than 17 because of developing weight issues. He turned to coaching midget hockey part-time in Edmonton after his playing career ended and spent 10 years selling sporting goods for United Cycle's Source For Sports to make ends meet -- until he got his chance in Kamloops.
"The turning point, the thing that motivated me, was I wanted to be a better coach. I had to feel better, and I had to look better," he once said. "I knew if I was going to get to another level, presentation was going to be a problem."
Mr. Hitchcock became the Flyers' head coach in 2002, in a city that is searching for its first championship in three decades. Philadelphia has gone through half-a-dozen coaches since 1997, in what is a pressure-cooker situation.
"In this business, it's not a normal lifestyle and you can really pound on the weight," said Mr. Hitchcock.
Ken Hitchcock; age 52
Currently: Philadelphia Flyers head coach
Previously: Won a Stanley Cup as coach of the 1999 Dallas Stars and a god medal as an associate coach with Canada's 2002 Olympic team.
Health Issue: Lost 250 pounds to get down to this coaching weight of 220.
"The turning point, the thing that motivated me, was I wanted to be a better coach. I had to feel better, and I had to look better. I knew if I was going to get to another level, presentation was going to be a problem"