Exclusive Interview: Rob Glass - Strength Coach

Rob Glass had his foot in the door that was going to take him to his goal in life. He was a young, popular graduate assistant football coach at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, and the future was looking ever so rosy. <p> But a funny thing happened on the way to the top that altered his life plan, and if you ask him today, he'll tell you it's the best thing that ever happened.

(The First of a Three-Part Series on GatorCountry.com reprinted from last summer. It's that time of the year when athletes focus soley on strength and conditioning so this story is more than relevant today and provides a unique behind the scenes look at the football program.)

John Stuckey was the Cowboys' strength and conditioning coach in those days. The former strength coach at the University of Tennessee, Stuckey was considered to be on the cutting edge, a man whose strength and conditioning programs were emulated in athletic programs nationwide. Glass became Stuckey's protege and a career began to take shape. Stuckey left Oklahoma State and Jerry Schmidt was brought in to head the program, but less than a year later, he went back to Notre Dame.

"Pat Jones called me up and told me 'if you want to run the strength and conditioning, the job is yours'," Glass recalls. He accepted the position and a career was changed that day. He never coached football again.

"Brad Sealy (now the offensive line coach of the New England Patriots, then the o-line coach at OSU) told me that once I got in the weight room I'd never come out, and he was right," said Glass with a laugh.

That was 1989 and in the years since, Glass has developed a reputation for being among the very best of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. He stayed at Oklahoma State until 1995 when he joined the UF staff as Coordinator of Strength and Conditioning. When Jerry Schmidt left UF after the 1998 season to go with Bobby Stoops to Oklahoma, Glass was promoted to Director of Strength and Conditioning. He oversees a staff of seven assistants who keep multiple weight rooms busy at all hours.

Steve Rissler (back) and Carlton Medder look on as Coach Glass spots a freshman doing a bench press.

"This is a great job," he said. "We've got the facilities and best of all, we've got coaches who bring in kids who are really motivated to succeed. It's the coaches and the kids who make my job and the job of my assistants so much easier. Believe me, it's a whole lot easier to work with motivated kids who are ready to work their tails off to succeed."

Ask the coaches at UF and they will tell you that a lot of the success Gator athletics has enjoyed can be traced to the hard work of Glass along with his staff of assistants. "Rob Glass is the best in the business," says football coach Ron Zook. "You call around the country and everyone will tell you how much they respect him and how good they know he is. He's got a big hand in the success we have on the football field and in every other sport. It's not an accident that the University of Florida competes for championships in every sport. Our coaches know that we can put the best trained athletes in the country on the playing fields.

"Our kids respect him so much, too, and for us to be successful, that has to be. With NCAA rules the way they are (coaches in sports are limited by the hours that they can have hands on contact) he actually spends more time with them than we do. What Rob does sets the tone for us, and he's a quality guy who does a super job every day."

Back when UF held its pro day in March, a day in which pro coaches and scouts from every NFL team were in Gainesville to evaluate players who were eligible for the NFL Draft, scouts went away raving at how well Glass organized the event and kept things moving at a rapid pace.

Clint McMillan working out with Julian Riley looking on.

"Florida is the best university in the country at showcasing its talent," said Cleveland Browns Coach Butch Davis. "They are meticulous in the way they organize this day for the scouts and the coaches. They really give the kids a chance to show themselves well. You have to give a lot of credit to Rob Glass, who I think is as good a strength and conditioning coach as there is in the country."

Glass almost blushes when the compliments come rolling in. He tends to deflect the coaching praise to the assistants and to the athletes.

"I can't say enough about the assistants we have," he said. "They put in the hours and they get the kids ready to succeed on the playing field. We couldn't be anywhere near as successful as we are if I didn't have so many good people working with me...and the kids! Gosh, they come in here motivated and ready to do what it takes to get themselves ready to compete. I give a lot of credit to coaches like Coach Zook who keep bringing in kids that are so easy to work with. The job we do here in strength and conditioning is only successful if the kids buy into what we're suggesting, and they do it."

Glass grew up in Newkirk, Oklahoma, which isn't the end of the earth, but there is a sign on the main street of town which tells you it's about seven miles and a left turn away. He played all the sports in high school with good success, then went to Oklahoma State with the dream of being a coach. It was a good time to be at OSU. Jimmy Johnson was the football coach when he got there. He left for Miami but was succeeded by Pat Jones. Eddie Sutton came back as the basketball coach. Gary Ward was coaching a baseball team that regularly made the College World Series and Mike Holder was the coach of the powerhouse golf team. The legendary basketball coach Hank Iba would attend football practices and was a fixture at anything that involved basketball. Football legends Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas were there. Pete Incaviglia (major league baseball) and Robin Ventura (now with the Yankees) were there. Scott Verplank (PGA tour) was there. John Starks (NBA) was there.

Steve Rissler executing dumbbell rows.

"I look back and it was a great time to be there," said Glass. "You look at the coaches who were there, and then some of the athletes, too. Most people don't know it, but back when I was there, only UCLA and maybe Stanford had won more national championships in all sports than Oklahoma State."

His college roommate was Bill Self, now the basketball coach at Kansas and still one of his best friends. Another of his best buddies was a javelin thrower named Garth Brooks.

"Garth used to sing songs down at a saloon in Stillwater called Shotgun Willie's," said Glass. "My wife (the former Laurie Lipe) and I found this old cassette when we were moving to our new house here in Gainesville. It was Garth down at Shotgun Willie's and there are about five or six songs on it that were on his first album. You can hear some drunk guys singing along with him. It's really something. Back then, we never dreamed he would become the star that he is. I mean, his stuff wasn't bad, but just not anything that you could ever dream would be good enough to get him where he is today."

The friendship with Brooks would have an important impact on the Oklahoma State weight program after Garth had become the country music megastar. He came back to Stillwater to play a concert at the basketball arena.

"We had two weight rooms back then," said Glass, "and before the concert Garth was working out in the small one in the arena. It had a lot of old stuff in it and he asked me if he could buy some of the old stuff that we didn't want to put into a weight room he was building in his new home in Nashville. After the concert, I had some old stuff together...some benches, weights and stuff... stuff we really didn't use. It probably wasn't worth $2000, if that. Garth wrote us out a check for $50,000. That just blew me away. We were able to completely refurbish the weight room because of that."

In the years he's been at Florida, Glass has become known as an innovative coach whose techniques not only build strength but increase speed and endurance, but also help athletes avoid injuries. He's been certified as a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach, and that is the highest honor that can be given by the National Conference for Strength and Conditioning Coaches.

The proof that he's getting the job done is in the athletes who have moved on from UF to the pros. Dozens of them keep coming back to UF with training objectives, knowing that Rob Glass will design a program that will help them attain their goals. Trace Armstrong (Oakland Raiders), for example, is in Gainesville, working out at UF.

"He's 15 years in the NFL and he's still working like he's a rookie trying to make the team," said Glass. "His ability to focus on what he needs to do is very impressive. He comes into our weight room and he really trains hard. We love it when he comes back because he works so hard and he's always helping us on our staff by talking to the kids, telling them what it takes not just to make it in the NFL, but to stay in there. We had him in here to talk to all of the kids and he was telling them that the average NFL career is three years, but the guys who have a college degree have a longer career. Why? Because they are smart enough to know what works and they are far more focused. You can't imagine how much help that is to us."

Rex Grossman, a recent first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, continues to work out with Glass, getting ready for his first NFL training camp. Grossman came to UF an Indiana prep football legend, but not with the greatest work ethic in the weight room.

Coach Glass spotting a football player.

"Rex was running scout team quarterback his freshman year, and he ducked out of a workout," Glass remembers. "He had to pay the price for missing that workout. When I got him I put him on the Stairmaster and worked his butt off. It's a lesson he never forgot. He became a hard worker and he still is. He saw and continues to see the benefit of the hard work he put in to conditioning and strengthening his body."

As he surveys a busy weight room, big, roomy, loaded with every weight and machine imaginable and UF athletes sweating as they put in the time to build up their bodies, he smiles when he thinks back to those first days at Oklahoma State.

"I really did want to be a coach," he said. "Back then, I never dreamed that I would end up in the weight room full time doing this kind of job, but now that I'm doing it, I love it. This is a great job and I'm working at a great university. The expectations are high in the classroom to succeed, and they're high on the football field and all the athletic programs. We've got great coaches to work with and outstanding kids. I don't know if there's a better place to work anywhere."

TOMORROW: Part Two of the series. Glass talks about how training techniques have changed over the years. "Some of the things we were doing 10-15 years ago are almost primitive compared to what we are doing now," he says.

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