The 48-year-old Longo was a starting wide receiver at Wayne State until graduating in 1985. He signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers before starting his life work as a strength and conditioning coach in the Big Ten. "I started at Wisconsin in 1986. I was there in '86 and '87. In '88 I moved over to Iowa and worked for Hayden Fry for the next thirteen years and spent sixteen years total at Iowa." After Fry retired, Longo remained at the school but eventually was reassigned. He spent his last two years in Iowa City working with the Olympic sports' athletes and was out of football. That changed when Brian Kelly was named head football coach at Central Michigan. "Coach Kelly lured me to Central Michigan, my home state, and I've spent the last three years there."
The veteran strength and conditioning coach appreciates the kind words from the Chippewa fans, but he credits his success to his boss. "My job is a behind the scenes job, and the only reason they even know about me is because Coach Kelly understands the importance of complete year round conditioning and educated them enough to know about the role I play."
The Michigan native is known for his unconventional training methods. One has been dubbed "Longo Beach." Paul explained the concept. "The beach is a strip of sand anywhere from 60 to 80 yards long, preferable 4 to 5 yards wide so we can get two to three players in there at a time. We want them to be competitive in it. It's designed to get their work volume as high as possible and avoid injuries. That's the key. You not only want to get them as good as you can, but you want to avoid injuries. Players are so big, fast and powerful these days from when I started in 1986. A 300 pounder was almost unheard of, but now you'll get them that big out of high school. The sand helps us to keep from pounding on all of the big guys." Longo Beach won't become a reality until adequate space is found. "We're searching for a spot and I have a couple ideas, but as of now we haven't sealed that in yet." Other equipment Longo plans to utilize includes tires, chains, sled pushing in the sand and other "ground based functional training."
With the completion of the Lindner Center, Coach Longo has a new state-of-the-art facility to use, and he feels Tim Swanger (who he is replacing) had the program on solid footing. "I can say this about the program overall. There are a lot of good things in place. Coming off an 8-5 year, that's great to come in and build upon. We're looking to see how we can continue to build and get to nine and ten and eleven wins. This is certainly different than at Central (Michigan) where they hadn't won for ten years."
Longo has nothing but empathy for the man he's replacing, Tim Swanger, who served UC for almost a decade. "Tim's a very good coach, no question about it. I'm sure he'll end up with another team somewhere." Coach Longo knows exactly how Coach Swanger feels since he too lost his position as Iowa's football strength and conditioning coach after serving in that role for over a decade. "Unfortunately, it's part of this business."
One of Coach Longo's major goals is to lower the body fat of Cincinnati's football players. "That's one of the big keys, and we will push it and push it. We'll be a very lean team at every position. There will be a set body fat for each position, and they will need to be under that come fall. I have ways to get them there through education. We want them to be faster and in better shape, but not that we want them small, we want them big-just big and lean."
Coach Longo Keeps An Eye On Practice
The new Cincinnati weight room came with an expensive sound system, but Longo is partial to a different kind of music. "I like sound, but my music is a bit different. I like the music of clanging weights and the rubber bumpers off the floor. That's music to my ears. The only other music will be if I'm serenading someone, and that happens quite a bit."
Fans have a great deal of interest in players' forty-yard-dash times, and Coach Longo recognizes its importance in gauging players' progress. "It's a marker. It's one of the things you measure your program by. It's a big test of whether or not what you're doing is working."
If anyone doesn't believe Longo knows his craft, he needs only look as far as the NFL and the interest of its scouts in the talent at Central Michigan. Joe Staley is the Chippewa senior left tackle that came to Mt. Pleasant as a 235 pound tight end. Now Joe is a 6' 5"/305 pound left tackle that runs a 4.7 forty. Sixty NFL scouts recently appeared on the Central Michigan campus to see Staley and some of his teammates. Amazingly, three Chippewas were invited to the NFL combine this year. Longo talked about his latest project, Joe Staley, a projected first round pick. "NFL scouts said he gave the best workout of any offensive tackle they had ever seen. He went from 235 his first year to 265 his second year to 285 as a junior to 305 last year. It didn't happen over night, but he developed in the program. Ross Verba was just like that at Iowa. He was a 235 pound average, slow tight end that liked to catch balls, but he ended up having a good career in the pros after we moved him to tackle. He's the only rookie left tackle to start in the Super Bowl." But Coach Longo also knows that helping one or two players to the professional ranks doesn't necessarily help the overall program. "We want to raise the average not just the guys that end up being drafted into the NFL. You have to develop the rank and file, and the way they get better is through my department. I think Coach Kelly and this staff have a great feel for where a kid can develop." Three of Kelly's players made NFL rosters after his first season in Mt. Pleasant. One more played in the NFL last year, and three more Chippewas project as draft picks in 2007.
Many of the Bearcat football players have heard about Longo's success at Central Michigan and are anxious to give it a try. After Saturday's practice, Khalil El-Amin said he spoke briefly with Coach Longo after practice, and the 305 pound offensive tackle is expecting to be his next 300 pound offensive lineman to run a sub 5 second forty.