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Samson Equipment’s Strength and Conditioning Coaches of the Year for 2012

by: Rex Lardner
Editor American Football Monthly
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NFL: Chris Carlisle
Seattle Seahawks

Background – Chris Carlisle began his coaching career at Dodge High School (NE) in 1985. After continuing to coach on the high school level and then as an assistant at the University of Arkansas, Carlisle joined the staff at Tennessee in 1998 under John Stucky. He then became USC’s head strength and conditioning coach in 2001 when Pete Carroll called Stucky and asked for a recommendation.

During the interview, Carroll said he wanted to, “Prepare at the highest level, so we can practice at the highest level, so we could play at the highest level.” After nine seasons Carlisle joined Carroll on the staff of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Carlisle: I think the one thing that stood out this season was the continued development of our young team. You hear of teams with players that have been on the field for 10-15 years and our oldest players are only eight-year veterans.

A second thing that was memorable was how relatively healthy we were able to remain. We started the same 22 players in our first regular season game that we did for our playoff game against the Redskins. A few players missed a game here or there but we were, for the most part, healthy throughout the season.

I attribute this to our athletes’ hard work and the consistent influence of strength training – flexibility, mobility and stability work throughout the entire season. Coach Carroll had our players competing from Monday to Saturday each week, preparing them for Sundays.

AFM: What is Your Strength and Conditioning Philosophy?

Carlisle: The game of football is based in movement. In order to be successful you must move faster, more powerfully and more efficiently than your opponent.

80% of our training is based in movement – this includes:

Speed: (linear – burst speed – change of direction)

Agility: (basic – reaction – variation)

Power: (plyos – med ball throws – Olympic movements)
Endurance: (base – specific)

The other 20%, strength, is in:

Strength training
(pressing – lower body – pushing)

In order for this to meld together we will constantly work on our flexibility, mobility and stability:

Flexibility: (dynamic – static)

Mobility: (range of motion – movement

Stability: (core development, abdominal and lower back plus balance and correctives)

It takes a micro-leader – one who at all times knows what’s going on but allows his staff to do their job – like Coach Carroll with a strong message to get all entities on the same page. In this system there can be no egos. The athletes, training room personnel, the coaches and the strength staff must bend and adapt for the good of the team.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Carlisle: I really believe in the hinging and triple extension (ankle – knee – hip) properties of the clean pull. The clean pull is the lowest portion of the power clean movement. The bar is pulled from the ground and the athlete will drive up to a tall extended position. The arms do not bend. If a coach is working in an environment where there are a large group of athletes, the power clean can become dangerous because it requires constant scrutiny. If a coach does not understand the power clean movement, injuries can occur (the “grip it and rip it up on your shoulders” school of teaching). The clean pull allows a team to get the advantages of doing the Olympic movement without all of the risk.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Carlisle: Use a sound teaching hierarchy. Mine is:

How To:  Technique

How Fast: Speed of movement / progression into more difficult movements

How Much: Amount of weight / reps / sets

The reason I believe in this so much is that you must teach your athlete how to move in specific patterns. Once this is taught, how fast or the speed of the movement, whether it is in the weight room or on the field (speed – agility – plyos – football drills) can be increased to game speed. If the technique (how to) breaks down, a coach can back off and re-teach the desired movement pattern. Once the movement (how to) and the proper speed (how fast) there is a natural progression of handling more weight or reps or sets (how much).

If the speed dips below the desired speed, then the weight or reps can be reduced to regain the proper speed (how fast) or technique (how to). Never sacrifice technique for faster movement or more weight. How much is always the last thing we worry about. I have coached at the high school, junior college, and college level and now the NFL and I have held true to this hierarchy and have had great luck in the development of athletes.

FBS: Kaz Kazadi

Background – Kaz Kazadi recently completed his fifth season as assistant athletic director for athletic performance at Baylor. Head Coach Art Briles hired him in 2008. Kazadi spent the 2007 season on the staff of the University of South Florida and also coached for two years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was an outstanding linebacker at Tulsa and later played in both the NFL and CFL.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Kazadi: It was watching the players battle through adversity. They showed their character after a loss to West Virginia. We had won our first three games and then lost to them, 70-63. They then seemed to welcome every challenge and we won our last four games. We went to our third straight bowl game and second consecutive win. Baylor hadn’t been to a bowl game since 1994 and now we’ve been to three straight.

AFM: What is your philosophy of strength and conditioning?

Kazadi: In 2008 we had to overhaul the culture in the weight room and started with the basics. This meant teaching our players to have a strong work ethic and embrace training at a high level and removing any doubt they may have had.

In the weight room, my role is to set a good example. Don’t allow everyday excuses. My job is to set a sense of accountability and have them adhere to it. Then, after that, it’s maintaining tempo. We teach them how to overcome adversity, to fight through issues and difficult situations and push through them. They know it’s one rep at a time, one test academically at a time or one drill at a time. The formula is breaking it down one thing at a time. The results – we’ve had linemen slimmed down, fat turned into muscle and flexibility dramatically improved.

AFM: What is your favorite movement?

 Kazadi: Not so much a movement but a strategy. While many strength and conditioning coaches may disagree, I believe strongly in having the players lift on Sundays, the day after games. They’re sore but lifting the next day helps lubricate the joints and flush out lactic acid and toxins. This way, they’re a step closer to recovery as they get ready for the next game.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Kazadi: The simpler the better. You can be very productive with very little in terms of strength and conditioning equipment. Focus on what you have. I firmly believe in the 80-20 rule. Nothing is going to be perfect. You can’t focus on the fact that you don’t have everything you’d like in terms of equipment. Instead, focus on what you have and not on what you hope to have. Be positive in your approach – it translates to your athletes.

Having an athlete that embraces a strong work ethic and will never give up is important to the leadership of your program. Each team should have some. Our leader in 2011 was Robert Griffin III – his work ethic and intensity helped us to a 10-win season.

Alex Willcox
Montana State

Background – Alex Willcox became interested in a career as a strength and conditioning coach while rehabbing a number of shoulder surgeries during his playing career at Iowa. He just completed his first full season as Montana State’s strength and conditioning coach. The Bobcats finished 11-2 and lost to Sam Houston State in the FCS playoffs.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Willcox: I think it was watching the incredible amount of improvement our players showed from the winter months that carried over to early December. It was a testament to their work ethic. They did not break down later in the year – which showed that their hard work in the weight room paid off. Seeing the results on the field gave me a great sense of satisfaction as the players clearly bought in to our strength program.

AFM: What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?

Willcox: Philosophically, there are three reasons for having a strength and conditioning program here – having your athletes perform to their maximum potential, treating injuries in the most complete way possible, and enhancing an athlete’s recovery process with the proper rehabilitation. In the weight room, there is an overall core of movements for each athlete. The conditioning phase, though, is different in that it is position-specific.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Willcox: I feel that sound strength and conditioning ground based explosion exercises are critical to a program, no matter what the level of competition. Various hip extension movements are also important in developing your players so they can maximize their potential.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Willcox: I feel the main thing to focus on is the periodization of training. By that I mean a program that reflects the training for that specific season. For example, winter is the time meant for building strength and speed. Spring practice has a different priority as does summer conditioning. Your program is different in the off-season – you’re not getting the team ready for a game.

You also have to know what your team needs to work on during the winter and spring months. Sit down with the coaches after the season and examine each player. Do they need to lose weight, build muscle, work on endurance? In developing individualized programs, you can then develop a positive relationship with each athlete.

Division II
Jason Smelser
Henderson State

Background – Jason Smelser just completed his second season as linebackers coach and strength and conditioning coordinator at Henderson State. He previously coached at Concordia University (Ann Arbor) as well as West Texas A & M, Iowa Wesleyan College and his alma mater, Southern Arkansas. HSU had the best regular season record in school history in 2012 (10-0) and averaged 50.4 points per game.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Smelser: We had great performances from our offense, defense, and special teams this past season. Our athletes put in a great effort that started in June. We had near 100% attendance for volunteer training. Our objective was to make our program as difficult as possible so we could find the athletes that really wanted to play. They all developed a great work ethic. My favorite slogan for our group is, “When things are rough during the week, it makes Saturdays that much easier.”

AFM: What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?

Smelser: You have to incorporate the philosophy and strategy of your head coach within your overall plan. If you don’t, you won’t have a good working relationship. Our primary recruiting objective is to recruit speed. My job is to develop fundamental strength and flexibility in an overall development program.

Another phrase we use is, “no deposit, no return.” This means you have to put forth the effort in order to get something out of it. Our main emphasis in the weight room is having the ankles, knees and hip joints remain flexible. Our four phases of strength training include muscular endurance, a hypertrophy phase, building muscular strength, and an overall power program.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Smelser: Any movement that improves the power and flexibility of the ankles, knees, and hips is important. Building explosive movement is also critical. That’s why power cleans, back squats, and plyometrics are all important to a program.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Smelser: I’ve been in every situation possible as a strength and conditioning coach – from having 10,000 square feet of space and multiple racks to having no racks at all. The thing to remember is that you can do just about anything you need to do with bars and dumbbells.

It is important to include unilateral work as part of your program. For example, working on one leg or one arm to make it stronger. This makes the entire body stronger. I think it’s also important to have a variety of different workouts. It will offer a challenge to your athletes and they won’t become bored with the same routine.

Division III
Phil Rombach
Linfield College

Background – Just completing his sixth year at Linfield College, Phil Rombach serves as linebackers coach, recruiting coordinator, and strength and conditioning coach. A four-year letterman at Linfield, Rombach was a key contributor to their Division III National Championship in 2004. Linfield went through the 2012 season undefeated but lost in the D-III quarterfinals to Wisconsin-Oshkosh, finishing 11-1.

AFM: What made this season memorable?

Rombach: We’ve had a lot of great seasons but the 2012 team had a lot of great upper classmen who provided leadership both on and off the field. They were committed to working hard and displayed a great work ethic. What helped us is that we had a lot of early season injuries, but we had great depth at a number of different positions. I was particularly proud that our defense led all of D-III in quarterback sacks with 64.

AFM: What is your philosophy of strength and conditioning?

Rombach: I believe strength and conditioning coaches at every level have to foster team chemistry in their workouts. It helps build camaraderie and makes for a positive program. You can work hard but still have fun.

With pre-season workouts, we try to vary the tempo so the players don’t plateau early. We feel ground-based, multi-joint movements are a priority four our success. We generally divide the athletes into three units: our trucks which are our offensive and defensive linemen, the SUVs which are the linebackers and tight ends, and the mustangs which are the running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Rombach: I think the one movement that is crucial to all strength and conditioning programs is the power clean – it’s a ground-based movement that translates directly to movement on the field. The clean and jerk are also important movements but not as crucial as the power clean.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Rombach: I think for younger athletes it’s critical that they learn the proper techniques with the movements they are taught. Incorrect technique can result in an injury. Bad habits can erode proper technique and limit a full range of motion.

Coaches should also establish realistic expectations for their athletes. The team itself – and not the individual – should always be emphasized during workouts.

Nate Turner
Morningside College

Background – Nate Turner has been at Morningside College for six seasons and serves as co-defensive coordinator, outside linebackers coach and strength and conditioning coordinator. He previously coached at Eastern Oregon University, his alma mater. Last fall Morningside had the best year in the school’s history, 13-1, losing in the NAIA Championship game to Marian in overtime, 30-27.

AFM: What made this season memorable?

Turner: There was a different feel this past fall – everything seemed magical and going our way. It started with the players believing in themselves and never quitting. In the playoffs we were down to both Montana Tech and Southern Oregon and we came back to win both games. We made some adjustments this past off-season emphasizing lateral movement and flat speed movement and I felt it made a difference. We averaged over 44 points per game and gave up only 13 per game.

We also changed our summer regimen from three days of conditioning workouts and four with weights to four and four. The athletes responded well and I think it showed with their endurance later in the season. Our emphasis included lateral movement on Mondays, anaerobic conditioning on Tuesdays, speed training on Thursdays and plyometrics on Fridays.

AFM: What is your philosophy of strength and conditioning?

Turner: We want to be multiple in what we do, vary the training, and not be boring. We call it ‘creative redundancy.’ You’re training the same muscles in creative ways. Our emphasis is on explosion with up-tempo workouts. We believe in the 4 E’s – energy breeds effort which breeds execution which breeds excellence.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Turner: I believe every program should have bend, squat, and power clean lifts – it’s the way to get strong and powerful. We also emphasize movements that help improve hip mobility – it translates directly to the field. The transfer of hip strength – from lower to the upper body – is crucial to be successful as a football player.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Turner: Make sure that you’re teaching the correct technique for every exercise and why you’re doing it. Many of us get caught up in the latest weight-training fad and don’t know how to execute the proper technique. By doing so, your athletes develop bad technique. More than any other exercise, be sure the power clean is taught correctly. If not, bad habits can be the result.

Tim Garcia
Butte College

Background – Tim Garcia is the safeties, special teams, and strength and conditioning coach at Butte College. He just completed his tenth season at the school and also teaches in the physical education department. Garcia began is coaching career on the high school level in 1989.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Garcia: We began a thorough strength and conditioning program last spring and it really paid dividends. We concentrated on the shoulders and back and our program helped reduce injuries. It was the fewest number of injuries we’ve had going back a number of seasons. Our training in-season on the upper body was designed to maintain strength and doing this also helped minimize injury. Each member of our staff contributed and worked the various training stations throughout the season.

AFM: What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?

Garcia: Your space has to be tailored so all of your athletes benefit. You try to get every player through the system with the goal being to increase speed, strength, and flexibility.

We do strength tests in pairs to save time and space. As an example, the incline press would be tested by our offensive and defensive linemen as well as our tight ends.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Garcia: Many strength and conditioning coaches shy away from the power clean because the correct technique is difficult to teach. Bad technique can result in an injury to the athlete. We also emphasize a number of flexible exercises for the knees and hips. Every player wants to improve his change of direction and these exercises help with that process.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Garcia: Maximize your resources by being creative and challenging your players. We have a blue collar attitude and will do creative things like tractor tire flips. This is a part of our off-season strength and conditioning team competitions.

Two other creative exercises you can use are ropes to strengthen the arms and dragging tires uphill. The latter puts stress on the body but has to be done with a proper technique. It’s a great conditioner for all of your players.

High School
Sean Manuel
Bishop Gorman High School (NV)

Background – Sean Manuel played both junior college football and at New Mexico State with his head coach at Bishop Gorman High School, Tony Sanchez. A tight end, Manuel was drafted and played briefly with the San Francisco 49ers. Sanchez later asked him to join him on the staff of California High School in San Ramon. He started there in 2004 and helped develop the school’s strength and conditioning program. When Sanchez became head coach at Bishop Gorman in 2009, Manuel followed in 2010 and completely revamped their outdated strength facility. Bishop Gorman won their fourth straight State Championship in 2012.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Manuel: I think watching the character, discipline and poise of our athletes from the first game on was a defining moment for the season. We beat Good Counsel HS in our first game – a team that had 16 players with offers from FBS programs. Our players really progressed during the season. We were ranked 29th nationally when the season began and finished eighth in the final USA Today poll.

AFM: What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?

Manuel: I think it has evolved over the years. I’m really into researching the latest movements that can benefit our athletes. We want each movement to directly transfer to the field whether it be a bench press or another movement.

We have a general philosophy of having each athlete do the same core exercises, but we also specialize in position-specific training. Wide receivers and defensive backs may work within 30% of their capacity on a movement while the linemen are working at 100% on the same exercise. One of our slogans is, “The season is built in the off-season.”

AFM: What is your favorite movement?

Manuel: I really believe in basic Olympic lifts, especially the snatch and clean. I find also that the Bulgarian Split Squat is a tremendous exercise. It’s a single leg squat that benefits the glute and helps balance on one leg. It builds thick leg strength. Much of blocking and tackling is from a unilateral position which is driving on one leg.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Manuel: The biggest single tip I can give to strength and conditioning coaches is to constantly research our field. By that I mean reading the strength journals regularly so you are always up-to-speed on new programs and technological advances.

If there isn’t a strength professional at your school, I would try to fundraise so you can hire one. In this day and age it is critical to have a certified strength coach at every school. The strength coach can develop a program for all athletes and make sure they don’t develop bad habits from poor technique. Proper posture, both in and out of the weight room, is important as well and a strength coach can correct that.

High School
Ron Colangelo
Venice High School (FL)

Background – Ron Colangelo has coached for 36 years. After beginning his coaching career in Massachusetts, he moved to Florida and later coached with the legendary Lou Saban at South Fork High School. Colangelo then moved to Venice and coached at both Venice High School and Sarasota High School. While at Sarasota, his weightlifting team won the State 2A title in 2008. Venice completed a 9-4 season in 2012, losing to Manatee in the state playoffs.

AFM: What made the 2012 season memorable?

Colangelo: Once the weight training program got started, the athletes made tremendous strides. The team seemed to progress each week and their off-season training in the weight room made a difference. It was reinforced to me again this past season that every athlete is different and you have to be patient with them as a strength coach.

AFM: What is your strength and conditioning philosophy?

Colangelo: My patent phrase is, “Be persistent until you succeed.” We also have the slogan in the weight room, “Winning Starts Here.” By that I mean both the physical and mental part of the game. We try to remind our players that every athlete is different but they all form a team. Our goal is to teach our players to explode in the weight room so they can carry that to the field.

AFM: Do you have a favorite movement?

Colangelo: The clean is, in my view, the most important movement. You’re looking for hip flexibility that translates directly to the field. Most exercises are lineal but the clean teaches you to thrust upward as your body downloads. It also teaches balance and explosion which is what you’re looking for in every athlete.

AFM: Do you have any tips for coaches?

Colangelo: It’s become a cliché, but it’s not how much you know about an athlete but how much you care. You have to know each and every one of your players, especially as they become varsity athletes as 15 and 16-year olds. You can show you care for your athletes by taking the time for extra work with them – it could be only 15 minutes but it could make the difference in your relationship. Some of my best relationships have come from spending a few minutes with a player on proper technique.

It is also important for your kids to be taught a full range of motion while doing the various exercises. Remember also that technique and proper form are more important than the amount of weight on the bar. As a strength and conditioning coach, don’t get caught up in numbers.


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