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Some years ago, I held a strength staff meeting. I wanted to put a plan together for some professional visits that we wanted to take. We were trying to figure out where we were going to go, who we were going to see and what questions we needed to ask. The staff really had some pertinent questions and ideas.

One question in particular really stuck out. They wanted to know how I evaluated myself and the program. It was a great question, but I didn't have any idea how to answer it. I've always been one of those people who just puts his head down and works. I never really thought about how to evaluate what we were doing or got involved with what was going on outside our program. Sure, I would try to pick things up at conferences or talk with people I knew, but I never really compared myself or our program to anyone else’s. Then I started to think, "Should I do that?"

So I started looking at all the successful programs. I did this until I started going crazy. I looked at all these schools and read the business organization models. I really dove into what all these other people do. It came to the point where I felt like I had the worst program in the world and that I just plain sucked as a coach. I even thought about changing up a bunch of stuff, redoing workouts, everything. (Thank God this was during the month of May before our athletes got back for the summer.) I really felt like I had hit rock bottom.

Then I just looked back to my early lifting days and a light went off (this was a great 'under the bar' lesson). I was the mouse in an elephant pen. I was competing in the 198-pound weight class, and my three training partners were all in the super heavyweight division, squatting in the 900s and benching deep in the fives. I wasn’t even strong enough to do lift-offs for them, yet I never compared myself to them. We all just worried about getting better. If I went to the gym every day and said to myself, "Man, I suck. I can’t squat as much as them," and if they compared themselves to guys who were stronger than they were, we never would have improved. I realized then what I needed to do: I had to break everything down to the bare basics and write down who I am and what I want our program to stand for. It was one of the most enlightening things that I've ever done. Why? Because it makes it internal, not external. It puts you in charge of your destiny.


I vowed to never compare our program to anyone else’s. Why? Because we all have different athletes, problems and challenges. We're constantly bombarded with distractions that we have to work through. You may be dealing with a difficult head coach while someone else may not be reaching some players as well as others. You may be dealing with the newest internet workout fad that some athletes want to try while someone else may be frustrated with one of his teams. Any number of things can knock you off course from the direction that you want your program to go.

So about every six months, I reevaluate. I use that reevaluation as a compass to guide me back to my core beliefs and how I want to run my program. If there is any advice that I can give you, it's don't compare yourself or your program to anyone. Boil your program and core values down to something that you can believe in and fight for and build a village from that! Then, despite all the chaos and insanity that you face on a daily and yearly basis, you can always get back to what matters and go from there. I'm not saying that you can't change. You must evolve to stay on top of the food chain, and you must keep getting better. This is why you go back and reevaluate every six months. But you must stay true to yourself.

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In reality, there really is no other way to do it. Really, how else could you do it? Strength numbers? Wins and losses? A Power 5 job? It's almost impossible to do it any other way. Let's use strength numbers as an example. Sure, your athletes may be strong and everyone on your team benches 500 pounds, but they lose every game. Would you still have a job? Once you really know who you are and what you stand for, getting players and coaches to buy in becomes much easier. Remember, if you aren't yourself, then who are you?

Players and coaches can smell a fraud a mile away. I've seen it at every level from high school to the SEC. I don’t care if it's a position coach, graduate assistant or strength coach. Frauds or pretenders don't have any chance. There is nothing worse than a tool who acts like he has all this juice, running around screaming at practice, and then two weeks into training camp, you can’t even hear a word that he says. Try to fake your way past a head coach and see how much he trusts you on decision making. If a head coach of any sport feels that you're faking it, see how much input he starts to make in your program. He will question everything you do, pretty much tell you how to do your job and wait until he can get rid of you. They don’t become head coaches because of their inability to judge people. It's the exact opposite. They become successful because they're usually great judges of character.


I'm also not saying that you can't compromise to maintain the core values and vision you have for your program. Remember, it isn't about who wins the battles. It's about who wins the war. In a perfect world, all coaches and athletes would do exactly what we asked them to do, no questions asked. They would follow our workouts to a T, listen to all our advice and live to make us happy. But as we all know, athletics isn't even close to a perfect world.

The best example of how to live, thrive and succeed in this not so perfect world of collegiate athletics is based on some advice my wife and I got from my aunt and uncle before we were married. My Uncle Sal and Aunt Ann were married for 73 years. Yes, you read that right—73 years. We asked them what their secret was for having a harmonious marriage for that long. They said, "Marriage is never 50/50. It's never even. One day she may get 80 percent and I get 20 percent, and the next day, I may get 99 percent and she gets one percent. That's how it works.”

As I think about that even now, it's exactly the same whether you're running a business, a team or a family. Nothing is even. You have to fight for everything you want and you have to keep your core values in place for yourself. So if a coach wants me to add an exercise that I don’t really like or have never done with his teams but is safe and I can do everything else I want with that team, I'll probably add that to the workout plan. He wins the battle, but I win the war. So stay the course, be yourself, stick to your core values and coach your ass off. You'll be surprised at how great things will go from there.