VV.com Exclusive: Aaron Ausmus

EDITOR'S NOTE: Last week VandalVenue.com writer Gaylen Wood sat down with Idaho Strength and Conditioning head coach <b>Aaron Ausmus</b> for an exclusive one-on-one interview. Many thanks to Aaron for granting us this interview. As with the rest of this outstanding coaching staff, Aaron's answers are candid and to the point.<br> <br>

PATRICK HAUGE / VandalVenue.com
Looking down from the 2nd floor of the Iverson Center.

October 30 will mark the six-MONTH anniversary of the dedication of the Norm L. Iverson Strength and Speed Center located on the east end of the Kibbie Dome. The state-of-the-art facility is dazzling and probably ranks among some of the best in the region. A facility, however, is just a room with equipment in it until the man in charge -- his program, his personality, and his staff - takes over.

When you approach the facility, there's a sign taped to the glass door: "Warning. If you are allergic to hard work, Do Not Enter." A visitor may chuckle when first seeing the sign thinking it's an attempt at "weight room" humor. A few minutes observing the Vandal strength and conditioning program in operation leaves no doubt in anyone's mind. This is a place where some serious work is getting done.

Head U of I strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus and assistants Wendell Richards (Appalachian State 2001) and Jake Scharnhorst (Northern Colorado, 2002) are extremely serious about what goes on inside the Center and its impact on the Vandal athletic program. Like football practices under head coach Nick Holt, there is no wasted time during a session in the Iverson Center. Ausmus is a man who has tasted success during his athletic career, and he knows exactly what it takes to help others succeed as well.

A 1998 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Ausmus was the 1997 NCAA Shot Put Champion and a two-time All-American in the sport. He was also a team captain and an SEC All-Academic selection. He earned a master's degree in Sports Administration at Tennessee in 2000 and was hired at USC in 2001 where he was the top assistant strength and conditioning coach and was in charge of the 2003 national championship Trojan football team. He also conditioned the Trojans during the 2002 Pac-10 championship season.

Coach Ausmus graciously agreed to sit down in his office to talk about the facility and the program he has installed.

LARRY JOHNSON / VandalVenue.com
Aaron leading the troops in some drills.

Q: What persuaded you to leave USC and come here?

AA: "This is an opportunity. Knowing coach Holt, this is a big step for both of us, leaving a program that's successful. My dream was to be a head strength coach, and here was the opportunity. Knowing that (Holt) was coming in was a big, big part of it. Once I came up to interview and actually saw this facility it was pretty much over. This facility did have a huge impact, because I know the program that I like to run, and seeing this facility and the capabilities it has, it was better than I could imagine."

PATRICK HAUGE / VandalVenue.com
"Floor space. We have a lot of space. We can do warmups with the teams. We don't have to go outside or go out into the Kibbie Dome." - Aaron Ausmus

Q: We know you've been at Tennessee and at USC. We're curious how this facility stacks up against some of the other places that you've been or seen.

AA: "This one is unique. It's not the biggest; it probably doesn't have as much equipment as some out there, but I think it has its own uniqueness about it. The glass and the high ceilings bring in a lot of extra lighting, and this layout is amazing. Floor space. We have a lot of space. We can do warmups with the teams. We don't have to go outside or go out into the Kibbie Dome. We can warm up in this weight room. I think that alone is big. The architecture of the building is just tremendous. Now when athletes come in they like being in here. Look at football: They're overlooking the practice field. That's what I try to tie in...they're not weightlifters. They're football players who lift weights to become better football players. Having them in here lifting and overlooking the practice field is a big advantage. The last weight room I worked at was in a basement with no natural lighting; so we didn't know what the weather was or what was going on outside. We were down in a basement with no windows. It's a little different. Here, we can have snow outside but we're in working hard in here. It's a pretty neat feeling: What's going on out there doesn't really matter. We're in here working hard. It's neat to see the outside elements while in here it's constant."

Q: The center was dedicated about six months ago and I think you were already on board at that time.

AA: "I came on April 5, and I think the facility had been opened about two weeks prior to that for use. We had the official ceremony before the spring game (April 30, 2004)."

LARRY JOHNSON / VandalVenue.com
Another view from the 2nd floor.

Q: We come to football practice almost every afternoon, and every time we come by it seems there are at least one or two or three teams in here working out. Are you and your staff working with every team?

AA: "Every team. This facility can accommodate two teams at the same time which is nice. Every machine and platform in here has the capability of doing multiple functions which means if you needed to squat you can use it to do squats then turn around and use it to do presses or other things. You can change stuff around. That's the beauty, I think, of this whole facility. It has so many capabilities to change things around to accommodate a basketball team and a soccer team at the same time, or a whole men's and women's track team at the same time. We're talking up to 40 athletes, and they can come in here and not have to stand around and wait for equipment. Equipment is always available."

Q: Everybody obviously knows about the football team using it, but how much do the other teams come in and work with you and the staff? Do you work with each sport coach to set up individual programs?"

AA: "Yes. We try to schedule throughout the day. We start the first team in the morning at 6 a.m. whether it's swimming or the cheer and dance team, and we're working with teams throughout the day. We'll finish usually at 5:30 or 6 o'clock with the final team. They're scheduled to have pretty much the whole facility to themselves with a strength coach; so there are no distractions. They've got full use, and it really works well. A lot of it is just in the scheduling throughout the day. Some teams don't get the luxury of sleeping in and coming in in the afternoon. They have to come in in the morning. A lot of it's based on when the sport coach wants to lift. Take swimming for example. They do so much work in the pool in the afternoon the only time they can get the lifting in is in the morning on certain days of the week; so it really works around everybody. Take track: They always want to lift after practice; so they're an evening team. There's a lot of communication between me and the staff here and the sport coaches."

LARRY JOHNSON / VandalVenue.com
Coach Ausmus observing a workout.

Q: We've heard comments from some of the players, the football players specifically, who were here before that you work kind of a different angle. Some places you get in and do the power lifts and bulk up or whatever. Do you have a little bit different approach?

AA: "I would say I'm a big believer in still doing a lot of Olympic lifts, power cleans and snatches and squats and presses. I think the biggest thing we try to accomplish in here is tempo. We have a saying: "If you're standing around you're wrong." You're either (lifting) or you're spotting your partner. We create an atmosphere over, say, an hour workout where...not only are you in here lifting you're also in here getting some conditioning. People are sweating, and I think that's a big thing. We're always moving. We're always working. It boils down to cutting all the bull ____out."

Q: We've noticed that with Nick's practices, too.

AA: It's the exact same thing. It's always go-go-go. Once the kids get into the swing of it -- some it takes a day, some it takes two weeks to figure it out -- the feeling they get is, `Wow. I get a great workout in, and it doesn't take long.' Our weightroom workouts right now are 45 minutes in season, and we can get a lot done in 45 minutes."

Q: Someone was telling us the other day that one of the football players, a senior, has had trouble during the season maintaining his weight. He'd start out around 230 and wind up in the 2-teens, but this year he's maintaining and getting stronger.

AA: "That's probably Brandon Kania. Brandon's an example of a guy who has bought into the program extremely big time. He's taken it upon himself. When he's not in here lifting he's working on getting his nutrition and his meals, and he's done a great job. He started the season at about 229, and now we're a little over halfway through and he's 239. He's actually gained weight during the season and has gotten stronger in certain lifts. He comes in and takes on the roll to do that. A lot of guys are doing that. I told them the first day that just because we're in season doesn't mean I want to use the word `maintenance.' I don't want to use the words `get by.' We're still aiming to get stronger, and certain individuals like Kania have done a great job of taking on that roll, and it's showing. Gaining weight during the season and gaining strength. That comes from him. Everybody, if they'll try, can do that. He's just done an exceptional job."

LARRY JOHNSON / VandalVenue.com
View of the Center taken in April, 2004.
Q: Nick said you guys lift three times a week with the team?

AA: "Right. We lift three times a week. The guys who are older and a little more developed have two mandatory lifts and then they have an optional on Thursday after practice. Most of them do that. The younger guys, we call it the developmental program. They have 3 mandatories with a fourth option; so it's about half and half. Half the team is on a two-day and half is on a three-day."

Q: We've noticed that at least once a week after football practice you hand out awards.

AA: It's a thing for the guys. We present to them on Wednesday the hardest lift of the week. It's the middle of the week and you're starting to taper down for a game, but you know what? In here we're going to hand you the hardest thing you're going to have all week. Guys compete at it. It's a circuit-type lift, and we reward the guys who really rise up to it. The guys really like that, and (the awards are) our appreciation for their effort."

Q: One of the teams we've seen in here (in the afternoons) is women's basketball. How hard does Mike (Divilbiss') team hit it here?

AA: Mike Divilbiss and coach Leonard Perry are really stressing the weight room. I think that more and more as these teams get in there and compete in these conference championships they realize that mental toughness has a lot to do with how they play on the court or the field; so a lot of coaches are wanting to strengthen up, to turn it up hard, make things tough, pick something that just basically makes them tougher. Women's basketball, men's basketball, all the sports have really basically bought into the whole philosophy of how we handle our business in here. That's what we try to do - make it a business atmosphere. When they walk in they know that they're going to work pretty much as hard as they can for 45 minutes to an hour. There's not time to go over and talk at the water fountain. There's not time to open the door and talk to your friend in the car. It's business, and all the coaches support that. We've a had great effort from the kids buying into that.

Q: Do the freshmen have any trouble adjusting to that? It seems like this is a whole lot different than most high schools.

AA: "They do learn accountability. They learn really quickly that it's serious at the Division I level. Everywhere I've been this is how you do it. This is how you run a program. You have to present it, but the athletes must figure out that they have to be accountable -- not just show up, but show up to get better. We tell them, `Don't come in here "to go to work." Come in here to get the job done.' There's a difference. If you just come in to go to work you're just here, but if you come in to get the job done you think of it differently. It goes back to `want to' versus `got to.' Do you tell your friends you've `got to go lift weights,' or do you tell you're friends you're `going to lift weights?" The whole mindset when they step in the door -- the difference between the two is huge. "

Q: I noticed in the last home game against Louisiana-Lafayette...it seemed...after halftime our conditioning was a definite factor in that (win) because we started manhandling people."

A: Right, and that's what we've got to keep instilling in these kids. A lot of this is a mental state. Every opponent we're going to play lifts weights, every opponent is going to run to condition. But it has to mean more, and you have to buy into that. A lot of it is mental conditioning. We do things in here sometimes that are mentally tough so when (a situation) faces the athlete in the third or fourth quarter, when something gets tough...well, you're probably either going to buy into it mentally or not. You might tell yourself `it's tough.' When you've done that, it's over.

But when it gets tough and you tell yourself, `Hey. We do tough stuff like this in the weight room or in practice. Practice tempo is tougher than this...' (When that happens) you've got an advantage over your opponent because your opponent is probably the one saying, `Man, this is getting hard. I'm starting to breathe hard. I don't know if I can go all out this play.' The next thing you've beaten him. The thing that we try to instill is not only the physical conditioning -- the heartbeat and the lungs and the muscles and all that -- but a mental toughness. The mental toughness, to me, plays a bigger role. An athlete will tell himself (or herself) when it gets too hard, and when he or she does that it's over."

Q: Are you still leading the warmups and stretching (for football)?

AA: Right. We do that before every practice. I get about 10 minutes to do that, and it's just a routine. It's like `Ground Hog's Day.' It's the same thing every day. We do certain drills and we do certain stretches, but the kids know when that horn blows, to go full speed at practice they have to warm up and stretch. If not, we'll have all kinds of injuries."

Q: I can't believe I found you free (for an interview).

AA: I usually have a little dead time about this time of day (1:30 p.m. Thursday).

Q: What about your year? Are there any down times for you?

AA: My peak season is from January until August. That's when I would say I'm on the go...When you have football, volleyball and soccer in season, which is this time of year, they're not in here as much; so this is actually a time of year we're in here but we're not quite as busy while we're here. Come January, when you take (football, volleyball and soccer) and put them in their off-season, then they lift four days a week instead of two. When they're on spring break we're pretty much on spring beak. When they have Christmas break we're on Christmas break. As far as `the grind,' we're still in and out but not all that much.

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