Thursday, January 8, 2009

The most important hire a coach can make

As you settle in to watch the OU-UF title game tonight, you'll have to appreciate how physically strong both teams are.

That's a credit to Jerry Schmidt (photo below) and Mickey Marotti (photo at left), the strength and conditioning coaches at Oklahoma and Florida, respectively.

According to this story in today's NY Times, "ask Sooners Coach Bob Stoops or Florida’s Urban Meyer to name the most valuable person in his program, and each would immediately point to his head strength and conditioning coach."

The increasingly important roles of Schmidt and Marotti are part of a booming trend in college football. N.C.A.A. rules do not allow position coaches to work with players in the off-season, so strength coaches become de facto head coaches.

Their booming voices are essentially the soundtracks of players’ collegiate lives, from predawn off-season workouts to the dog days of summer. Find a successful program like Florida or Oklahoma, and there is inevitably a strength coach serving as its backbone.

“He’s my first lieutenant,” Stoops said of Schmidt.

Meyer said his hiring of Marotti was “the most important hire that you can make.”

Marotti’s "unorthodox drills" have included "pushing tires and old maintenance vans around the football field" and pushing "wheelbarrows in sand pits."

Gators QB Tim Tebow says that Marotti "may be the most valuable coach on our team."

The article includes a story about how, during one workout, Schmidt "became upset because players did not run their warm-up lap fast enough. So he made the group run another and another and another. Finally, after seven unacceptable warm-up laps, Schmidt kicked the entire group out of the workout. When kicked out, players have to return later in the day and redo the entire workout."

Says one OU player (who passed out after his initial workout with Schmidt): "Everybody gets kicked out at least one time."

This article from the Palm Beach paper describes how Marotti "sets weight goals for players in the off-season, and helps them achieve the goals through tough love and positive reinforcement."

The 43-year-old Marotti, who Coach Meyer calls the "head coach of the first floor" (where the Gators' weight room is located), "is one of Meyer's top motivators, giving fiery speeches after practices and before games. Meyer calls him a 'master' of motivation and mental preparation."

"The biggest thing we do is hold the players accountable," Marotti said. "We basically try to suffocate them as much as we can, and stay on them 24-7."

In this article on, Coach Stoops describes why Coach Schmidt has a bigger influence on Sooner players than any other coach:

"He's with them every single day this time of year. We're not allowed to coach them. He's teaching them to be a better athlete. He gets more time with them. He isn't offense or defense. They look at him different. He works with everybody. He's my first lieutenant to the guys. They know I feel that's one of the strength points of the program. They know he's the guy. I don't have to be hands-on. He is."