Notre Dame Football

Strength and Honor

January 27, 2017

The same three fundamental aspects of having a successful football team exist today as they have for decades. These characteristics of a championship program were essentials for two coaching giants of the 1960’s and 70’s; Paul Bryant and Ara Parseghian…opposite personality types coming from totally different types pf institutions, religious affiliations and regions of the country.

Both shared however, these three fundamentals of winning football:   Always surround yourself with competent people, always have a plan for any situation, and play a physical style of football. The last component of this list is what the focus of this article is today. Physical play is born in the weight room and the culture behind it starts there as well. As witnessed in last year’s struggles for the Irish, it is indeed a factor that must be addressed. Specifically in how strength and conditioning programs around the country have evolved and where Notre Dame stacks up against the competition.

Researching the staffs of Alabama and Clemson, I was looking for the number of people involved with the strength program. As I went even further I began to see the correlation between this area of the athletic department and the training and nutrition program to help create a unified approach to perfecting athletic development. The University of Alabama employs 13 strength and conditioning coaches who work solely with the football team. Clemson University has 10 devoted totally to football. Notre Dame currently, with the new addition of Matt Balis, has 6. Numbers wise you can see an immediate difference and behind the smaller number in personnel for Notre Dame is where you will find the problem in many different forms.
Rick Kimball/ISD Alex Bars

I spoke with an SEC assistant strength coach recently and wanted to get an idea of what they do and how it may reflect onto what Notre Dame has been lacking. I was looking for more than the style or theory they had for weightlifting, most every strength coach has his/her idea of the perfect method to build a better athlete.  

You could write an entire article on the procedure to build up a monster. It’s known you have to bring an intensity and aggressive attitude, that’s a given in respect to doing this right. What I was looking for was the management and development of the culture needed. The first factor brought out was with the larger staff to work with the athletes meant more eyes on them to make sure they were doing it right.

The SEC guy stated: “the biggest part of weight training now is the movement in which they lift, it’s as important to lift using the proper Kinesiology of motion as the amount of weight they lift and you better be there to make sure its learned right,” he said.  In a more detailed explanation of this statement is the focus of the two staffs at both Alabama and Clemson is to develop proper technique matching the proper weight with the movement required to get the muscle to respond and lift.

This response done over and over will cause a more explosive muscle being built. When calculating this with the fact on average a college football play last 6-7 seconds, you need a muscle reaction and build to respond explosively rather than a slow push. This is a perfect example of where the bigger staffs come in to play. More coaches on the floor allows for the guidance needed to make sure techniques are right and be there to help improve when needed.

Another thing the SEC coach said, and I thought it was brilliant was: “you want as many staff guys in there to work them so hard that you make it part of your culture. You get the best results when your guys make it about competition and accountability. In the end it will separate the ones who will fight to be on top and the ones who get satisfied. You keep the hungry ones because they will develop into the more physical players, and they will kick the ass of any who lag behind, that’s how you build a group that will wear down an opponent in the 4th quarte,” he said.  

To do this, though, you have to have the staff built up and on the same page to build that arena. The strength coaches spend more time and develop some of the more personal relationships with the athletes. It is vital for Notre Dame to establish this component that has obviously been missing the last few years. I think the hiring of Balis is a very good step in the right direction as far correcting and gearing the Irish toward a more cultural accountability and intensity level. I believe that the staff involved is just as important to reinforce what he is doing and influence the players themselves to grow up and take it upon themselves to get better. This builds teamwork and character.

In the end the hope is with a better and more efficient strength program you will see a more physical style of play, be it out of the spread or wishbone, one that will exert itself in the fourth quarter of football games. The thing is, if you’re a conditioned, physical team you will wear your opponent down and that is when mistakes start to occur.

Turnovers, penalties and poor tackling are the products of the lesser physical squad at the end of the game. When watching Notre Dame over the past few seasons, not only did the size and development of our players look less evolved but also how our play would diminish as the game would play out.

These are all systematic failures and deficiencies of strength and conditioning program struggling to keep up. For a culture to change, those living in that culture have to understand there is a problem and address it. Like everything else that has been written about the changes made by Kelly this offseason, this one was long overdue to be corrected and the hope is that it’s not too late. Notre Dame can and should strive to be among the elite. The weight room is where this rebirth should begin.
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