At the conclusion of unsuccessful NFL seasons, a lot of people get the axe-general managers, head coaches, assistant coaches, positional coaches and strength & conditioning coaches all can become expendable.
This happened today as my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers which had a deeply disappointing season and that axe fell hard for some, including Packer strength and conditioning coach, Rock Gullickson.
But what is the role of an S & C on an NFL team? Is he like a personal trainer to 53 elite full contact athletes or is there more to the job?
According to a New York Times article, these strength coaches are held in as high regard as team trainers and doctors and are probably every bit as competitive as the players they train and coach.
If the job of the team surgeon is to repair the athlete from the ravages of a fast, high impact game and get him productive again, then the job of the S & C coach is, among other things, keeping the player in good enough condition to keep him away from the surgeon or if the player had been injured, to get his strength and stamina back to pre-injury levels. Remember, these players are multi-million dollar assets to their teams and so medical staff, trainers and strength and conditioning coaches exist to keep these players productive and on the field performing high levels. They are, by competitive and economic necessity, the best in the business.
But that’s not all. The players have to have the strength and stamina to not only make it through the fourth quarter of a game, but the fourth quarter of a 16 game season and beyond, into the play-offs if everyone performs their job and remains healthy throughout the season.
The S & C coach works the year round designing programs to put the athletes in the best possible position to do their job at the highest level their talent allows for throughout the entire season.
There are 32 teams in the NFL and I suppose there may be 32 different approaches strength coaches take as to how to go about this challenging task. Like anything else, there are originators and imitators. Jason Novak appears to be an innovator.
The Art of Strength website said they have worked with the assistant strength coach of the play-off bound Tennessee Titans, Jason Novak who said they successfully employ kettlebells and ropes to achieve their results. Titans head S & C coach, Steve Watersson along with Novak elaborate further in this video:
(If the embedded video is available here, go see it at the AOS.
Here is more to see from the Titans and kettlebells.
You’ll also want to read about the Baltimore Ravens offseason training program which also uses kettlebells and functional lifting at the core of its strength regimen.
So what happened with Rock Gullickson of the Packers? According “jayvis” on a NFL forum commented that the Packers this season suffered a rash of of ligament and muscle tears among other things like the defense running out of gas in the fourth quarter of games. For the third year in a row, the Packers had the youngest team in the league, so there should be no excuse for general lack of conditioning issues near the end of games. Another problem was that our linemen, both defensive and offensive got pushed around often this season long by their opposition.
Soft tissue injuries were a problem recently with the Ravens football team. “I call it the Baltimore Ravens University,” said linebacker Gary Stills, a West Virginia alumnus. “I remember all of those things coming back to me from college. The working out, the lifting, these aren’t small workouts. These are big weights, big lifts. I think it’s going to help us out, especially after last year, where we’re coming off so many soft-tissue injuries.”
Now, of course, there are many reasons for the breakdowns the Pack suffered this year and a significant number of Packer coaches were canned or “retired” as a result and it was deemed Gullickson and his program may have been part of the Packers problem this season, (even thought it did not appear to be the case last season when the Packers went 13-3).
I plan on paying close attention to whom my team brings in to replace Rock and learn his philosophies and protocols in the weight room and then see how it plays out next season.