Ryan Russell returned to Auburn with Coach Malzahn and is in charge of strength and conditioning for the Tigers. Everything that I hear about him is that he is an up-and-coming star in this area.
The thing that makes his job so important is that the offseason program is about more than just developing strength and improving the conditioning. This part of the training program is where players develop mental toughness and discipline, which is just as important to success on the football field as how big, strong and fast players are.
You can be big and strong and fast, but if you can't compete at the highest level when you're tired because you're not tough enough mentally that goes back to your strength and conditioning program. It takes a special type person to be able to go to that weight room and stay there all day, day after day because kids have different class schedules. Also, because some kids are further along physically and mentally and with their toughness than others, the strength and conditioning coach has to tailor a training program that will benefit each player.
The coach also has to figure out what the physical limits are for each of the players and how to push them to get there. That is something that is difficult for the players themselves to know. The strength coach has to have the kind of personality to be able to push an athlete to the limit three or four times a week.That is something that is easy to talk about, but hard to do.
To get somebody to exert themselves to the point of total fatigue is a challenge. When you get to that point as a football player, that is when you begin to make progress. The more times you get there the easier it becomes mentally. Physically, it doesn't get any easier on the tail end of it when you're hurting and every muscle in your body feels like it's on fire, but what you learn is that it ain't going to kill you. It is just going to make you sore.
Now every football team in the country, not just the Southeastern Conference, has strength and conditioning coaches and they have offseason programs. Also, it seems like about everybody in the country holds up four fingers in the fourth quarter and that's easy to do. I believe the guy who is running the offseason program is going to have a large say in which team is going to win the fourth quarter of a competitive football game.
For the strength and conditioning coach to be successful he needs the full support of the head coach. You can be sure there will be issues that come up with individuals during the course of year because of the intensity of the training. The head coach has got to make sure the strength and conditioning coach has the authority to deal with those issues or he isn't going to be able to get the job done the way it needs to be done.
Because everything I have heard about Ryan Russell is good, I am as excited about him being at Auburn as I have been about anyone who has been hired for the new coaching staff. Developing mental toughness needs to continue through spring practice and through the summer conditioning drills, too. The same is true with developing leadership on the team. Coach Russell will have a major role in making that happen.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.