Of course the head man can't be coaching his players in the summer months. This is when Balis and his strength staff have complete charge of the on-campus personnel…and full responsibility of preparing everyone for August camp and the 2010 season. Though players haven't been cleared for media interviews yet, word of the ongoing summer program still gets around.
So, Balis gave up a portion of his own midweek day-off to speak with a handful of media members about summer plans and progress. The edited transcript follows.
Q: A player told me he had to report at 5:30 in the morning for running work. What did that session consist of? "We had a team run yesterday at 6:00 am, we call it a competitive/agility run. Which consists of competing against your teammates in agility fashion, by position group. The other one is just football agility, meaning you're going to do something with cones and sleds to mimic some kind of football-specific movement. So we're getting conditioning out of that, we're getting competition out of that, and football conditioning out of that. That was the whole team at 6:00. Then we had certain lift groups."
Q: Here in your second summer with State, are you using the same schedule as last June or have there been adjustments? "It's pretty similar. We try to present it a different way so it isn't the exact same thing. We're doing our speed work a little differently, we're putting them at stations to get more specific teaching. Speed work you have to spend time on. Speed is a lot of technique, obviously you recruit speed but if you want what your recruit faster you've got to spend time on it. I mean the technique of running fast.
"So I like what we're doing there. We put the speed stuff at stations and we've incorporated it into our warm-up as well. We talked about the agility work was yesterday; and tomorrow we'll do more of an anaerobic conditioning day before we lift."
Q: In the second year do you notice guys being more receptive? "There is definitely a difference. They know the standards of the program, and how to work. Nothing is ever a given so you have to come back and work again. But there are certain guys that work better than other guys. You want your whole team to work like the best guys do. If they're not willing to do that you're going to struggle in the season. Because if you're cutting now when the coaches are looking now, you're going to do that later. So that is the biggest challenge always, is to get as many guys going in the same direction as possible.
"Now, we had a great day Saturday, I felt we had a lot of guys going in the same direction. The hard part is can you do it every day, day-in and day-out, when it's really hard, when you're tired, when your body is feeling beat-down. We're only in week two, we just had some time off, so the guys should be feeling pretty good. But it's a hard program, it's demanding. It's never easy to be the best."
Q: In year-two are you finding you're still having to push or are guys taking it on themselves? "I think always strength coaches have to push guys to do what they normally wouldn't do. If you weren't standing here, three-quarters of the team wouldn't do what you want, it wouldn't be at the level you want. Some people say after you get a program rolling for a while you'll get to that point. But the coach is still here. I don't know if it will ever get to that point, the level we go I don't think we'll go that hard (without coaches present).
"Now in year-two we're better; the older guys are better. But still it's not good enough. We did enough to be 5-7 last year, so we have to improve a ton. A ton. Because you want to go to a bowl game, you want to win eight, nine, ten ball games. You've got to double what you did last year. Double it. That's not easy. So to answer your question, yes, but it's still a job you have to demand it of them and motivate."
Q: Take us through a typical work-week. "Monday was our speed/power day. We started with our speed work outside, were in stations; technique-work we got some acceleration, we pulled some sleds, did some mini-hurdles. We worked on technique but doing it fast; how to be explosive off the ground, try to improve their stride length and stride frequency within those stations. Then we came in and did our hand-clean work, our heavy upper-body day. And a little bit of football work at the end.
"Tuesday was our agility/competition and our football agilities at first; then they came back and got their lower-body lifts. We squatted, did some pliametric jumping, some explosive work, we got their legs pretty good.
"Today they're off. Thursday we'll come back and do upper body again with a little bit of explosiveness, but more of a high-intensity where it will be higher reps and just a little bit more challenge mentally. Especially with the run beforehand. And Friday is our lower body hard day, just our gut-buster day in terms of challenging the lower body. It's very tough.
"And Saturday…that's a day I can't really talk about right now! Coach will tell you about it once its done, but we're looking forward to it."
Q: Could these demands of Friday and Saturday maybe also help wear the guys out and forestall any weekend antics? "Yeah, you hope so! Kids are kids and 18-to-22-year-olds, you're not going to stop a kid from being a kid. But they'll be pretty tired, no question about it!
"And what we preach like crazy is whenever you have a day off, take care of your body. Sunday is your day to rest, recover, eat, hydrate; just don't do much. Relax."
Q: You can't tell us yet what is happening Saturday; will it be the same thing every Saturday? "We won't work out Saturdays after this. This is just something we had to do to try to change it up, to be different."
Q: Do you look for new things and novelties? "Yes. I think that actually brings your team together. When they have no choice but to look at each other to get through it, that's life. That's football. You have to depend on someone in a game, you have to trust each other in a game or else you're going to lose. If you're trying to do it all yourself and you don't trust your teammates to get it done, what happens? You try to do too much and you make mistakes. Same thing with workouts. Same thing with life. Those type workouts, that's what they're for.
"I believe you have to think you're out-working your opponent. And we're old school in the fact that if you don't pay a price…weight training and conditioning doesn't just happen, you're not in shape because you worked out. You have to overload and push yourself and go past what you thought you could do. If you don't do that day-in and day-out you're not going to get better. That's just scientific research, you've got to overload the muscle, you've got to provide variety or the body adapts to what you're doing. So we change it up for those reasons, among the other team-building things."
Q: Is it possible to divide the workout periods by positions or does class schedule prevent it? "It's all about class schedules. In the winter we try to do more by position but even then it's not exact. You have to go off class schedules, tutoring schedules, which is kind of good in the summer.
"You mix-and-match now because this is where you really have to form your team; you have to form the cohesiveness of the team, the closeness of the team. Guys have to see what other position-group guys are doing, that's where the trust starts being made. So really that's what you want in the summer. The winter is more by position."
Q: In July will the emphasis shift somewhat more to conditioning over agility and speed? "Slightly. You've still got to train, you've still got to keep guys strong. But we will run a little bit more in July."
Q: Last June there were just five true freshmen so it wasn't hard fitting them in. This year there are 13 to work in, does it change the approach? "That's challenging. We're in our second week now and its 16, 17 guys with the walk-ons, trying to get them caught up to where these older guys are. Now that's never going to happen totally, there is no way in two weeks they're going to be where they (veterans) are. But we have good leaders, and after this week I'm going to pair (the freshmen) up our older leaders, and they'll just have to kind of jump on board.
"But it is a very daunting task because it is a lot of guys to get caught up quick. No matter what they do, a freshman will never, ever, ever be able to match what the collegiate level workout is, what the practice tempo is, the intensity is. No matter who they are. I can think of one guy, Johnathan McKenzie was a guy who actually could come in last year and could match the intensity of where we were at. That doesn't happen very often; in fact ever that I can think of. I mean all the young kids right now are struggling because they just don't understand that work ethic, they're not in shape yet. They can't, yet. They will, they're all great athletes, we've got a really good recruiting class."
Q: You have a camp this weekend, what do you tell those young guys they need to be doing over the next year to make that transition? "Well, you try to explain it to them. But I just don' think they can ever match…even our own guys when they go home to work out they can't match it.
"I guess a strength coach's job, if they're a good one, is push guys to do things they normally wouldn't do. So you can tell them everything they're supposed to do. But do they do it? Usually they don't."
Q: You've talked about pushing guys as they've never been pushed. While that might intimidate some, do you see others take it as a challenge? "Oh, yeah. We have that with guys. There are certain guys who are better at that than others. I love our team, I love what we're about, I love Mississippi State, I love the kids. They've got a lot of pride here, they wear their heart on their sleeve and it's a special group.
"We're early on in the summer of OK, what do we want to do, what price do we want to pay? So I'm a little fired-up right now. Yes I see a lot of improvements. But we've got a long way to go, if that makes sense. Because if not, why even have the summer? Yeah, it's better and it's positive…but we haven't done anything yet. We're just starting. We're just at the beginning."
Q: Talking to various coaches a name that always comes up talking about leaders is K.J. Wright. Who are guys you see stepping up as leaders? "Well, that's a good question. For us to be successful, I think this is any organization, you build a team, a structure, a company from the ground-up. So what I tell our players is every single person on the team is a leader.
"Who is it you'd say that is kind of, for lack of a better word on the bottom who has to step up and do that? Corey Broomfield is a young guy who had a little bit of success last year but he's a guy who has to step up, to be a leader. Has he done it yet, no, but he has to. Nickoe Whitley is a young guy that has to step up and lead. A guy like Mark Lynn who is a walk-on but works his tail off and the guys respect and trust, he's a guy that does that.
"Chad Bumphis is a young guy that doesn't know how to lead yet but has to by example and by work ethic. Just by what he does when he's not here (in the weightroom); is he catching balls, in the jugs machine getting his hands better? Marcus Green has to lead by example and do something he's never done before. Hopefully Leon Berry will step up and be one of our leaders. At skill positions it's huge to have a guy, and older guy that has played, who will provide a positive attitude and vocal leadership for some things.
"We have certain guys who are team leaders, like K.J. and Pernell McPhee. If they're not we're in trouble. But you also have to have the other guys doing it, because if it's not built from the bottom what do you have? By the time Chad is a senior you hope he's the greatest leader that has ever played here. K.J. is probably the main guy right now, Pernell is trying to be, J.C. Brignone. They're all doing a good job, they've got to get better at it. Louis Watson is a quiet guy who works his tail off. Patrich Hanrahan, a guy who walked on but because of how tough he is on the field and his work ethic he's become a guy who is respected. Those kinds of guys are huge for your program. A Johnathan McKenzie, a Devin Jones. Devin is one of the toughest kids I've ever been around; is he going to make tons plays on the field I don't know but I'll tell you what, the kids respect him because of how hard a worker he is. Those kinds of guys are just as important in my opinion. A Charles Mitchell, he is probably one of the best leaders on the team. He doesn't say a lot but he's an incredible worker and leader. He's a special, special guy."
"K.J. Pernelll, from top-to-bottom, they say we're going to get it done. That's what our team is based on, these certain values."
Q: Earlier you mentioned the 5-7 first year, do you have to remind them of that or do the player remind themselves of how close they were and how far from the goals? "I think it's a combination. I want it to be more them. What we're preaching is you guys have to care more than we do. That's when you see teams turn the corner, when the team starts to care more than the coaches and leaders are preaching that.
"What we (coaches) talk about is you can't focus on winning, you focus on the day-to-day process. And that's what I see them focusing on right now and I like that. Because you really can't control winning, what you can control is what goes into winning. And that's what they're doing a great job of right now, we're had really good days…but again we've got a long way go to. I like what I see.
"In terms of what you're saying, are they reminding themselves of that particular record, no. But are they doing the things that go into making that record better, yes. And they are pushing each other to do that. And that's really positive."