More schools in­vest­ing big in strength coaches

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Steve Berkowitz, Tom Schad and Christopher Sch­naars Con­tribut­ing: Blake Topp­meyer of The Knoxville News Sentinel

When Jeremy Pruitt was in­tro­duced as the head coach at Ten­nessee last year, he spoke about chang­ing the cul­ture of the pro­gram, to turn the Vol­un­teers into a “big, fast, dom­i­nat­ing, ag­gres­sive, relentless foot­ball team that nobody in the SEC wants to play.”

Part of that cul­tural evo­lu­tion came in the weight room.

Be­fore long, Pruitt had hired Craig Fitzger­ald away from the NFL’s Tex­ans, where he had been the head strength and con­di­tion­ing coach for four sea­sons. Ten­nessee gave Fitzger­ald a three-year con­tract worth $625,000 an­nu­ally, a 67 per­cent in­crease over what the school had paid for his pre­de­ces­sor. Then it spent an­other $660,000 to ren­o­vate the weight room.

“We were pre­pared to make an in­vest­ment in that area,” ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Phillip Ful­mer said last spring.

With each pass­ing year, the ag­gres­sion, and spend­ing, in hir­ing strength coaches such as Fitzger­ald con­tin­ues to grow. Since 2016, when USA TO­DAY first started track­ing their an­nual com­pen­sa­tion, the num­ber of strength coaches mak­ing more than $500,000 a year has in­creased from three to eight. And 17 oth­ers now have an an­nual com­pen­sa­tion of at least $300,000.

Iowa’s Chris Doyle con­tin­ues to lead the group, with an an­nual com­pen­sa­tion of $725,000 in 2018. He makes more than all but two head coaches in the Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence, and he’s in line to re­ceive a raise to $783,000 in 2019 based on a pro­vi­sion in head coach Kirk Fer­entz’s con­tract.

Else­where, schools con­tinue to put an em­pha­sis on hir­ing the right strength and con­di­tion­ing coach, and they’re will­ing to in­vest sig­nificant re­sources to en­sure that such hires are made.

At Michi­gan, for ex­am­ple, strength coach Ben Her­bert re­ceived a three-year con­tract with a $450,000 ini­tial an­nual salary and a $50,000 sign­ing bonus, as well as a com­mit­ment to have a $450,000 salary pool for four foot­ball as­sis­tant strength coaches and one nu­tri­tion­ist. At Texas A&M, new head coach Jimbo Fisher helped woo Jerry Sch­midt from Ok­la­homa with what amounted to a $236,000 raise from what he made a year ago.

While Power Five schools still have the great­est re­sources at their dis­posal, Group of Five schools have made sub­stan­tial com­mit­ments to strength and con­di­tion­ing coaches, too. Take Florida At­lantic, where the Owls tripled the an­nual com­pen­sa­tion of head strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Wil­son Love from $80,000 to $250,000 and gave the 27-year-old the added ti­tle of “as­sis­tant head foot­ball coach,” to boot.

Head coaches of­ten de­scribe their strength coaches as the peo­ple who help build and main­tain the cul­ture of the pro­gram, of­ten in the offsea­son when con­tact with the rest of the staff is lim­ited by the NCAA, an in­te­gral role in the staff. So as as­sis­tant coach salaries con­tinue to rise, strength coach com­pen­sa­tion will rise, too. There’s no sign of either slow­ing down any time soon.

DAVID SCRIVNER/IOWA CITY PRESS-CI­TI­ZEN

Iowa’s Chris Doyle is earn­ing $725,000, tops this sea­son for strength coaches in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion.

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