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The Life of Riley

Dan Riley: The consciene of strength & conditioning in football ...
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Riley’s Thoughts on Supplements ...

“When I started in this industry, a strength and conditioning coach could tell an athlete anything. We could tell them to do a back flip and they would run faster ... we could tell them to close one eye and they would catch better. Well, that abuse of misinformation is still happening in the sports nutrition arena.

“I spoke out about steroids in 1978 and I speak out about supplements today. Supplements are part of the widespread fraud that exists in the health and fitness industry. After all, if you need glasses in order see clearer, you don’t go to the gas station and ask the attendant for a prescription for your eyes. When you are sick, you don’t just start taking everything off the store shelf without seeing a doctor first. Yet people are willing to swallow anything that they think will help them jump higher or run faster.

“Most people are not deficient in anything. In fact, many of us need less of what we are getting. However, if an athlete is deficient then they need to go see a registered Dietitian. They are easy to find ... they have an R.D. behind their name. If you have a deficiency, they will prescribe you something from a reputable company. Otherwise, anything athletes do for themselves is a self-prescription.

“People always ask me if I believe in supplements and the answer is, ‘Yes, I do.’ I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny because I haven’t gotten an Easter basket in a long, long time. I do believe in supplements because I know that they exist, but that does not mean that I support them. The FDA does not regulate supplements, so we are not guaranteed of what ingredients are in the bottle.

“A supplement is a derivative of actual food ... if you need Vitamin C, then go eat an orange. I tell athletes that they aren’t qualified to make decisions on what is right or wrong for their bodies, and neither are their coaches, teachers, friends or parents.”

When Dan Riley joined the Houston Texans as the expansion club’s first strength and conditioning coach back in Feb. 1, 2001, many may have asked why?

After all, why would one of the godfathers of the strength and conditioning industry, with a national championship run while a young coach at Penn State in 1977 want to take on the daunting task of building a football program from scratch in the most football-crazed state in the country?

Why would a critically acclaimed coach who was a prominent member of the Washington Redskins for 19 years – including four Super Bowl campaigns – want to take responsibility transforming a roster filled with free agents and supplemental draft picks into a winning football program in the most competitive football league on earth?

Well, to get the answers to these questions all you have to do is ask Dan Riley yourself.

“We (Houston Texans) have the absolute finest facilities in the world for our football players,” said Riley. “We have the best owner and administration. We have a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room that is fully equipped. I couldn’t ask for more. But when I do, they never say no.

“Plus, we will win here with Dom Capers as head coach,” he added.

And according to Capers, who orchestrated another expansion triumph in Carolina with the Panthers, Riley is the perfect choice.

“We are very fortunate to have Dan,” he said. “He has been a pioneer in the strength and conditioning industry for a very long time. His methods have withstood the test of time. He has a purpose for everything he does and the players see that and understand that. Overall, we feel very fortunate to have Dan Riley heading up our strength and conditioning program.”

When the NFL awarded Houston the 32nd franchise on Oct. 6, 1999, owner Bob McNair wasted little time in securing a crackerjack staff headed up by Charley Casserly, senior vice president and general manager of football operations. Casserly and Riley were no strangers ... their relationship started back in 1982 with the Redskins under head coach Joe Gibbs.

“I have known Charley Casserly for 21 years, so I know what he is capable of,” said Riley. “He is a visionary and a gentleman.”

“I think Dan is the best at what he does in the business,” said Casserly. “I think he stays ahead of the curve in the industry. He is creative and can think outside the box. When I set this thing up, he was one of the key components in organizing this organization for me.”

During the first season, the Texans jumped off to a 1-0 start after shocking cross-state rival, the Dallas Cowboys, 19-10, on a prime time, intra-conference game, which was nationally televised on a Sunday night. However, it would not be all wine and roses for the upstart Texans, as they would slide to a 4-12 record after suffering numerous injuries, especially on the offensive line.

“I have the best job in the country,” said Riley. “I love Houston and I am going to retire here. I told Dom he could fire me today, but I am not leaving Houston. This is the most exciting thing that I have ever been a part of. I am blessed for the opportunity that I have here with the Texans and I am not going to blow it.”

Functional Football Strength ...

One of the hottest topics in the strength and conditioning industry is the intensity of in-season training. While some coaches still adhere to a less-is-more philosophy, not Riley, who believes that the only difference between in-season and off-season training are the letters before the hyphen.

“I don’t care how hard a player works in the off-season, if it is not sustained from the first day of summer camp until the last day of the season ... it is no benefit on game day,” said Riley. “Having a more productive off-season training schedule than an in-season schedule is like studying in January for a calculus test in September. Sure you study really hard in January, February and March, but then you stop or slow down. When you actually take the test in September, you can’t remember what you studied six months earlier so you fail.

“It’s not easy to maintain intensity during the season,” Riley added. “Athletes are banged up and fatigued from travel during a long season. But game day is the most important day for an athlete to be at their peak in performance. If a guy tells me to do five sets during the season and three sets during the season, as a player, I have to question that. When I need to be the strongest is now, so why am I doing more sets in the off-season. My in-season and off-season program in Houston has to be identical.”

Functional Football Strength ...

Ask Dan Riley who the strongest Texan is and you’ll probably get a common response: “Strongest to do what? Pass protect? Run block? Bench Press? Push a truck around the parking lot?”

“Functional football strength is the key for a football player,” said Riley. “Who cares how much an athlete can lift if he can’t transfer the strength gained in the weight room to a position specific task on the field? Our goal is to find good football players and get them strong.

“The actual act of lifting a weight is a meaningless task for a football player. It is a means to an end. For many years we used the act of lifting a weight as the means. This encouraged players to become preoccupied with the act of lifting the weight and usually at the expense of good form. A lack of good form may allow an athlete to ‘lift’ more weight at the expense of better results. After all, half the time you cut the athlete with the strongest bench press.” He added. “You cut the guy who can run really fast in a straight line. You have to find good football players and get them stronger and that is the key to a successful program.”

It’s not rocket science ...

Ask Dan Riley why he is so respected and he claims because he has simply been around so long. Ask Dan Riley why he has been so successful and he will tell you because he has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by great players led by great coaches.

Ask Dan Riley what’s the secret to the sports and conditioning puzzle and he’ll tell you that there is simply no secret.

“My son (T) was ranked second in the nation in 1999 in stolen bases (54) at James Madison when I had someone from the NCAA tell me that my son was really lucky to have a father that could help him with all the tools that he would need to get stronger and faster. He asked me, ‘What I did.’ I said, ‘I left him alone.’”

Dan Riley is – without a doubt – one of the most respected professionals in the strength-training field. He has blazed a path of research and knowledge throughout the industry and has influenced many of today’s top coaches.

“Dan was my strength coach during my senior year at Penn State,” said John Dunn, New York Giants strength and conditioning coach. “There was no such thing as strength training back then. When Dan was hired, that was the first time that we had structure and a game plan for what we were going to do in the weight room. He has had a tremendous impact on my life. His clarity of vision allows him to see things for what they are and not overstate the issue. Dan has the ability to see what strength training is to a football program, but he also understands that it is just one spoke in the wheel. He can take different ideas and pull out the truth from the fiction after looking at it objectively. He is as good as anybody at converting strength training jargon into common sense.”

“In the weight room we must identify those methods that produce the greatest amount of results in the least amount of time in the safest manner possible,” concluded Riley. “We must do this in a way that is compatible with the needs of a football player. This is not rocket science.”

If you liked this article, here are three others just like it:

1. Nebraska’s Boyd Epley: The Godfather of Strength & Conditioning, March 2001
2. Jerry Schmidt: Behind Oklahoma’s Strength, March 2002
3. Do Your Athletes Measure Up? March 2001


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