A Field Guide To The College Football Strength Coach

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The stories about them aren’t all the same, but they hit a lot of the same notes. Strength coaches drive up to the football offices at 4 a.m. in F-850s, trucks so large they’re only legally sold to men who can deadlift more than 500 pounds. A full barbell power cage and a Ford Mustang GT sit in the back. They carry both everywhere, sometimes without the truck.

Their height: somewhere between five and seven feet tall. No matter the height, they all weigh 400 pounds of rock-solid, creatine-fueled muscle. The physique might not look like 400 pounds; cracks in the sidewalk are the proof. They wear weightlifting shoes with raised heels in the shower, drink steaming black coffee from rain barrels they carry in one hand, and spontaneously appear with scowls behind linemen about to pick fried food off buffets.

Strength coaches eat steaks from bison they caught themselves with nothing but knives and loincloth. The thrill of the hunt would be enough by itself, but lean protein in bulk is too much to resist.

Observers report yelling — different yells for different occasions, some positive, some very positive, and some a specific kind of agitated, but still positive. The strength coach’s call is a hoarse one, starting around 4:30 a.m. and continuing until nightfall, sometimes over ear-splitting Metallica.

Strength coaches reportedly bench your max for a warmup. They wear heavy coats in July to show the power of the mind over matter, or wear shorts and an undershirt on the field in November. Strength coaches headbutt players wearing helmets and pick up entire assistant coaches like bags of mulch, to keep them from getting penalties.

They have been seen fretting in spreadsheets over bar speeds and plateauing power clean numbers.

The reports agree on one thing: strength coaches do a lot of the heavy lifting, literal and figurative, in making a team stronger and faster. They often do this when no other coaches are around. They run workouts, track totals, count steps. They do this all with the help of a loyal pet wolf.

Some of these things might be true. Somewhere between myth and meme, the strength coaches are often appreciated, but proper documentation is lacking. There needs to be more study.

Here is an in-progress field guide. Fortunately, the subject is not an elusive one. (No one that huge is.)


The strength coach emerged recently, first appearing in the Midwest. Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney hired Boyd Epley — a scholarship pole vaulter, albeit a ripped one — in 1969 at the urging of future Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne.

Devaney agreed to let his players lift weights, but with one caveat: “If anyone gets slower, you’re fired.”

So Epley started Nebraska’s strength program alone in an un-airconditioned shed and used paint cans as weights. No one got slower.

Strength programs popped up pretty much everywhere. Everyone eventually started doing what Nebraska was doing.

Fifty years later, strength coaches manage weight rooms the size of Nebraska’s old practice facility. They manage their own staffs. When NCAA rule changes limited the amount of time position coaches could spend with players, strength coaches became the staff members with the most rule-sanctioned player contact.

That change did not escape the notice of head coaches, who pumped up the position to become more swole with responsibilities than previously imagined. Their organizational importance bulked up beyond proper squat technique. Strength coaches now talk about being “culture drivers,” have gameday duties, and yes, still teach 18-year-olds how to be physically uncomfortable in the name of becoming a better athlete.

They are the front-line evangelists from the program to the players. Their voice is often as loud as the head coach’s and heard just as often. (If not more, and at much greater volume.)

Ask Mike Gundy. He’s a head coach.

“Rob (Glass) is such an important part of what we do at Oklahoma State in terms of setting the culture and in developing our players as men. His impact goes far beyond the weight room.”

Dwight Galt is the head of strength and conditioning at Penn State, so he is obviously biased on the topic. But he is also in his fourth decade of making players stronger and faster — see Vernon Davis’s legendary combine or Penn State’s recent tear through the NFL’s meat market for proof — so he might know what he’s talking about: “If you mess the strength coach hire up, you’re in trouble.”

>“He has a great red beard. It’s just a hard, awesome beard.”


That all strength coaches have beards or shaved heads is unsupported by observation.

For instance, Galt rocks the bald head/goatee combo. Gus Felder at Miami wears the same, minus goatee. Glass is old school like Epley, clean-shaven with a perfectly normal haircut. Adam Smotherman at Clemson has a goatee because his beard is “patchy,” and also because his wife has forbidden him from growing a mustache.

Smotherman singles out fellow strength coach Rhett Brooks at Arkansas for facial hair excellence:

“He has a great red beard. It’s just a hard, awesome beard.”

LSU’s Tommy Moffitt has no facial hair or trademark haircut. However, “I had a mean mullet back in the day.”

Matt Hickmann at MTSU wears a true combo-breaker, proof that there is much variation in the species: just the beard, sans mustache.

Rob Glass
Oklahoma State


Definitely diurnal. Barring some early or late film study, strength coaches are usually the first in the building.

The general rule: The strength coach’s day starts 30 to 90 minutes prior to the players arriving.

At Miami, Felder gets in at the crack of 4:25 a.m. He guides the day’s workouts while wearing a necklace with a miniature, gold version of a 45-pound plate hanging from it. Each member of his family has one. His is engraved with Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Miami S&C coach Gus Felder speaking to media pic.twitter.com/NQ1X7c1RLr

— Peter Ariz (@PeterAriz) June 29, 2016

Source : https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2018/8/10/17655704/strength-coaches

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