"I knew I wanted to be a coach when I was in the 5th grade. I had an uncle that was a high school coach and I grew up around him going to practice. I went to Southern Miss and majored in Coaching and Sports Administration. I graduated and started coaching. My first job was at Byram High School. From there, I went to Clinton. Then, I went to different places.
"I knew, without a doubt, that was what I was supposed to be doing. I say that because I had a passion for what I did. The long hours, the time I spent at work, it was not work to me. Before I knew it, my day was done and I never sat there watching the clock like so many people do at their jobs.
"I was a goal-setter. I knew I wanted to be a high school head football coach. However, that goal changed along the way. My first job at Byrum I was the strength coach. So, I went and talked to some people and figured out how to set up a program. This business, like anything else, you learn as you go. Everywhere I went from then on, I was a football coach and strength coach.
"At Madison Central they had powerlifting and were fairly competitive but I think the best they had done was finish 5th in the state. My first year there I coached linebackers and ran our strength program.
"My first year was my hardest year because I had to go in and do whatever had to be done to change attitudes. We had some people who worked hard, but you are not going to win with some people working hard. You have to have everybody pulling on the same end of the rope, striving for the same goal. We did it. We finished 4th in the state that first year and got to the 3rd round of the playoffs in football.
"The second year we came back and had a great year because we had more and more leaders. I really think a key is you find leaders and you win those leaders over as you come into a place. If you change those leaders, then they are helping you coach other people and are helping you push other people. A couple of those kids showed up and led by example. That was a key because we won the state in powerlifting and got to the third round again in football.
"My last year at Madison (Central) was my best because everybody worked hard. I didn't have to coach effort anymore. I was still in the weight room and I was fiery and pushing people, but they knew what I expected and knew they had to do it or leave. They knew I wasn't going to lower the bar. We won another state powerlifting state championship and went 15-0 (in football). We came from behind against South Panola, playing at their place, and won 25 to 24 with 30 seconds to go. Then, we went on to beat Provine in the state championship game."
How did you wind up going from high school to college coaching?
"I remember coming out of (Madison Central's) fieldhouse an afternoon in April and our soccer coach said, 'you've had great powerlifting teams and it's only a matter of time before some division-1 program hires you as a strength coach.' I remember laughing in his face, thinking he was crazy.
"It wasn't long after that, (LSU) Coach Trickett asked me about our weight program. I told him exactly what I thought. Tommy Moffett, the head strength coach at LSU, called and we talked on the phone for 45 minutes. Our philosophies are almost identical. He was a high school coach like I was. He got an opportunity as an assistant at Tennessee, then took the head (strength) job at Miami with Butch Davis. Then he went to LSU with Coach Saban.
"It was kind of the same path he helped me follow because he gave me an opportunity to go to LSU as an assistant strength coach in charge of baseball and softball and also assisting with football. I did that for two years and absolutely loved it, but my heart was with football. I was a football coach who had turned into a strength coach and I wanted to be more involved in football.
"So, I had an opportunity to go to West Virginia with a sharp, young coach in Rich Rodriguez. And, of course, Rick Trickett was there and I knew what type coach he was. It was a chance to be Director of Field Development, which allowed me to be the assistant head football strength coach. I really enjoyed it, but, all along, I wanted to be a head strength coach. That was my goal. Once I got into college, I no longer wanted to be a high school head football coach and athletic director; I wanted to be the head strength coach (in college).
How did you wind up getting the Mississippi State job?
"When Coach Sherrill retired and they hired Coach Croom, I told my wife I wanted that job. I didn't really know for sure if they were going to have an opening at the head strength job, but I thought that they might. I really didn't have any connections on the staff other than Freddie Kitchens, but I contacted him before he left North Texas. I also knew some people at West Virginia that knew some people. Coach Trickett knew Coach Grimes and he knew Woody McCorvey. Coach Trickett has always believed in me, so he called Coach Grimes. Coach Stewart, our quarterback coach at West Virginia, called Coach McCorvey. Also, John Mangum, who played at Alabama, is my brother-in-law, called me and said Terry Jones (the assistant strength coach at Alabama) called him and was asking about me.
"Then, I was sitting at home one night and Terry Jones called me and asked me about myself. I told him about my philosophy of training and how I do things. He then said he was going to call Coach Croom and tell him that he may have found his guy. Luckily, Coach Croom called me and asked me if I could come up to Green Bay (for an interview). I went and had a really good meeting with him. After the meeting, I went back to the hotel room and told my wife 'that this is the guy I want to work for'. Everything he said, I agreed with: Attitudes have to change, coaches have to be consistent, discipline is not a bad thing but a good thing, kids have to have direction."
Now that you are at Mississippi State, what are some things you like and some things you want to improve? What about additional equipment and personnel?
"I have met all the coaches and like all of them. One of the things that Coach Rodriguez said when I left Morgantown was that Coach Croom has put together a heck of a staff.
"Looking at our weight facility, I like the size of it. It is plenty big enough. I don't know how many square feet it is, but at LSU it was 6,000 to 6,500 and it is probably bigger than that. So, the size is ok. We don't have to have a big, fancy weight room. It does help in recruiting because it looks impressive, but I just need the basics to get things done.
"I believe in explosive training. I like the Gayle Hatch training program. He was the US weightlifting coach for one of the Olympics. The guy has forgotten more about strength and conditioning than most people know. After I got the job, he called and told me 4 of the top 9 teams in the country are using the Hatch program. Tommy Moffett put it in at Tennessee. Four years later they won a national championship. He went to Miami and they won a national championship. He went to LSU and they have just won a national championship. They are also using the Hatch program at USC (co-national champs in 2004).
"You have to have the right type of equipment to do that (type training). At West Virginia and LSU we had a lot of platforms and we did a lot of olympic lifts; cleans, jerks and squats. We had 16 platforms at LSU. At West Virginia we had 7 and they are about to get 20. We have 4 (at MSU). We have to have more platforms. What I would like to have is the power station. On one end of it is the platform and on the other end is a squat rack, a multi-purpose bench. Basically, you can do all your lifting there. Wayne County (MS) High School has 15 power stations. And they've won back to back state championships. I'm not saying you will win a championship if you use this system, but there seems to be a connection. (At MSU) we've got 4 platforms. If we could get 6 of those power stations, that would give us 10." (MSU, since this interview, has purchased 6 platforms.-Gene)
"At LSU we had 4 strength coaches, 4 (graduate assistants) and 4 interns. We would have 10 to 12 people in (the weight room). If you have 12 people and each coach has 3 guys, you can run 36 guys through there in each workout. When you have a coach with you the entire time, coaching you, helping you to get better, there is no way to cheat the system. Sometimes, you are not going to have some guys that are as motivated as others. If you only have a couple of guys in the weight room and have 40 players lifting, they can't see all of them. The way we did it at LSU there was no way to cheat the system and that is the way we are going to do it here." (MSU now has 3 fulltime strength coaches, 3 graduate assistants as well as 3 or 4 interns.-Gene)
How do you get interns and why do you need them?
"What I do is talk to the people in the (PE) department and try to get good interns. Now, they are interning while in school. They are learning how to teach the lifts. Then, when your (graduate assistants) leave and your interns graduate, they simply move into the (graduate assistant) spot. That is the way LSU does it and also the way Tennessee does it."
You mentioned the Gayle Hatch training program. Does it help cut down on injuries?
"Yes, it can help to prevent and reduce the number of injuries. My goals at Mississippi State is, 1) to improve athletic performance on the field regardless of what sport it is, and, 2) to limit injuries. While some injuries can't be prevented, I know that the amount of injuries at West Virginia and LSU went down. Tommy (Moffett) showed me a list of the (injuries) at LSU before he got there and the number after he got there. It would blow your mine how much less it was."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.