A Q&A With MSU Head Strength Coach Matt Balis

A Q&A session with new Mississippi State head strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis.

How did you get into the strength and condition coaching profession?
Matt Balis - "I was a competitive power-lifter. I started competing in power-lifting when I was a senior in high school - the squat, bench and dead lift. Then, I did it all through college. I just fell in love with weight-training. That was my whole life - power-lifting, competing, and training hard. That kind of got me into the weight-training game. During college (at Northern Illinois), I worked as a student assistant strength coach briefly. Then, I started teaching weight-training in the high school ranks by working with the high school football teams. I really fell in love with the coaching aspect of strength and conditioning. And during this time I met some people who were moving into the college business and they told me that I would be great on the college level.

"Making a long story short I started getting into the college level. And that's how I got to this point."

I know you said you started power-lifting as a senior, but what led you into power-lifting?
"Football. In my opinion, you need strength training to become a great football player. Strength training has a huge impact on your foundation and how good you can be as a player."

When did you and Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen first meet, and how long have you two been working together?
"I met him when he was at Bowling Green and I was still in Chicago as a high school strength coach and elementary PE teacher. We started working together at the University of Utah. He was the quarterbacks coach and I was hired as the Assistant Director (of Strength and Conditioning). We got to know each other for just under the two years we worked there. We both went to Florida from there. And I worked with Coach Mullen for two and a half years there. I've known him for six to seven years now."

Did you and Coach Mullen ever talked about him hiring you as his strength coach if he ever got a college head coaching job?
"We've never talked about that that much. But we have the same philosophies. And he and I both have been with (Florida head football) Coach (Urban) Meyer for several years. So, you think something like that might happen and, if it did, it would be a great fit. But I don't think we ever really talked about it very much in terms of the future because you never know what will happen."

What are some of the similar philosophies that you two have?
"In terms of kids and discipline, the collegiate atmosphere, the enthusiastic approach, the relentless effort approach, being involved in kids lives, trying to make them into great men and teach them the champion lifestyle which means trying to be a champion in everything that you do. Those are the same philosophies that we share."

Who are some of the people that have influenced you into becoming the strength coach that you are today?
"Probably the person who has had the biggest impact on me is Matt Foster, a high school football coach in the Chicago area who also coached in college for 20 years at Central Connecticut and several other colleges out east. He had a huge influence and impact just on how I deal with kids - the motivation of kids during 6 am workouts and getting after kids early on on how to build your foundation and build your team through the weight room. However you choose to train them, you have to train hard because there are no shortcuts.

"The next guy I worked with was Scott Kellar, the head strength coach at the University of Houston. He hired me for my first college job. He was a tremendously intense person who had played in the NFL. He and I shared a lot of beliefs on how you should train kids. What I took from him was a lot of the Xs and Os and the intensity level.

"Mickey Marotti, who is the head strength coach at Florida, is someone that I got to know when I was still a high school strength coach. He was at Notre Dame at the time. Notre Dame was only about an hour to an hour and a half away, so I went to visit him and pick his brain. That allowed me to see what they were doing at the college level. We ended up being at Florida together. It was awesome.

"A couple of other guys who have influenced me are Coach Meyer and (Virginia head football) Coach (Al) Groh.

"You always take a little bit from everybody when it comes to learning. But I think the biggest thing you learn from other coaches is not the Xs and Os, but how they deal with players and their philosophy on how they do things."

You are going to spend more time with the players than the head coach and the assistant coaches. What are you going to try to be - a buddy, a second father or maybe something else entirely?
"I think I'm going to be more like a mentor and a positive role model. That's how I like to look at it. I want to be someone that they can talk to. I not only want to be someone that works them hard, but also someone that they can confide in, be someone that they know cares about them. It's very important to me to be part of their lives. I want our guys to live life the way you are supposed to live - being a good person, being a great father someday, being a great husband. Those are things, through being a strength coach, that you can help teach them."

Describe your personality?
"I think it is serious, being all business. I'm pretty much like that all the time, but in (the weight room) it is at a much higher level. Off the field, I'm serious, but I'm not worried about what you are doing in the weight room. You can't be intense like that all the time."

What are your hobbies?
"I love to go out to dinner with my wife and son or just hang out with my son and do things with him. I love being with my family."

Do you hunt and fish?
"No, I grew up in the city, so I don't really hunt or fish. I've heard this is one of the best places for hunting, duck hunting and deer hunting. I've heard there are more deer here than humans. My wife's step-father is a huge hunter and fisherman, so he's really fired up."

What will the players be doing for the next few weeks prior to spring football practice?
"The first thing is we are going to learn how to work. For an hour and fifteen minutes we are going to try and get everything out of them that we can. We want them to extend and give as much effort as they possibly can. If they do that and give a little bit more each day, before long they are going to get really good.

"A lot of people don't take that approach, they kind of go through the motions. With our program, there won't be anyone going through the motions. Once the kids learn how the system works, it's going to be 100 miles per hour. We are going to get as strong as we possibly can. We are going to be explosive, we are going to get faster, quicker. But a lot of that will be put on them.

"What I mean by that is internally and mentally they are going to have to decide. Only they really know how hard they are going. We are going to push them and it will be a hands on program. We are going to have coaches in their faces coaching them, pushing them to be the best that they can be. But only they will know how hard they are going."

I noticed a list of rules on the weight room wall. What are some specific rules that apply to the players when they are in the weight room?
"No cell phones, no sitting down, no yawning and they are to wear Bulldog gear only. We also don't want to see hats or jewelry. Everyone looks the same. When you are in here, it's like you are on the field. It's like when we are playing Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida, Auburn - it's serious business.

"We want to make the workouts in the weight room similar to what they are going through on the field in terms of the mindset. The mind is a very powerful thing. If you train your mind six, seven months out of the year a certain way, then when it comes time to play the games you already have yourself trained."

How many coaches do you hope to have on your staff?
"We would like to have anywhere from four to six strength coaches working with football. The more strength coaches, the better. It's kind of like the number of football coaches you have - you have a coach for every position. And in strength and conditioning, to maximize your players, you want eyes all over the weight room."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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