Mike Heimerdinger just wanted to do his job.
Because he did exactly that, despite the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer in midseason, Heimerdinger on Tuesday was named one of 28 finalists for the inaugural Don Shula NFL Coach of the Year Award.
“My first goal when it all happened was to see if I could make it through the season without missing a practice or a game,” Heimerdinger told The City Paper. “… When you first hear about cancer, yeah, it’s drastic. It’s all of that. But the main thing is I didn’t miss a practice, I didn’t miss a game, I didn’t miss game-planning — anything. The difference was if I was getting treatments, I worked 10 hours instead of 16-hour days.”
Heimerdinger was the only NFL assistant coach among the finalists, which included college, high school and youth coaches. Five NFL head coaches — Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, New Orleans’ Sean Payton, N.Y. Giants’ Tom Coughlin, Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris — also made the list.
The award was created to honor exemplary coaches at all level of the sport, and the finalists were based on character, integrity, inspirational leadership, commitment to the community and on-field success.
The winner will receive $25,000 and will be recognized during Super Bowl activities.
“Mike remains 100 percent committed to this organization and his players because he takes a great amount of pride in everything he does,” coach Jeff Fisher said.
Fisher made public Heimerdinger’s situation on Nov. 24 as the team began preparations for a game at Houston. The primary concession the Titans’ offensive coordinator made after that was that he worked the final four games from the pressbox instead of the on the sideline, as he had done.
Heimerdinger continues to undergo treatment for the illness but says he has no plans to abandon his coaching career or even reduce his duties.
“If I didn’t miss any time during [this season], I’m certainly not going to miss any time in the fall,” he said. “I’m approaching this [offseason] as just a regular situation. I don’t see it changing anything.”