Setting the Standard

In Ole Miss' strength and conditioning program, players come and go. The one constant, however, is Don Decker.

Decker, the long-tenured strength and conditioning coach under Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, is entering his third year.

Before his arrival in Oxford, he was at Arkansas for 15 seasons, including the last 10 as the head strength and conditioning coach. He was designated a master level strength coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association in 2004.

But as Decker will admit, his staying power in the ever-changing Southeastern Conference has little to do with individual achievement. Decker leans on the strength of his staff, which follows what Decker deems "the standard" to a tee.

Don Decker

"I'm not going to take a day off in terms of holding (the players) to that standard," Decker said. "That's one thing you can count on. Day in and day out, you're going to be held to that standard."

When Nutt was named Ole Miss' head coach three years ago, a standard for what the program was going to be was set, according to Decker. Every day is a commitment to perfection, attention to detail and doing everything the right way.

From the weight room to the practice fields, players are expected to give maximum effort and strive for their very best. For Decker, his job is to champion that very cause, instilled by Nutt, and to "make sure we're holding our players to that standard."

"It's not a drill-sergeant type mentality," he said. "There's a lot of ways to motivate. The weight room is a place that's very difficult, that's very strenuous. It's an atmosphere that's already tough enough. As long as things are staying in tune and in line with what I want done on a daily basis, we're going to have a good time. We're going to high-five each other when they do something really, really good.

"What I tell my staff is if you say something negative, you better follow it up with about five positives. We're not looking for ways to tear them down. We're looking for ways to build them up."

Decker's message is carried out daily by his assistants, led by top assistant Jason Wilfawn, a Decker disciple of nine years. Matt Turner helps in football, but is primarily responsible for the Ole Miss men's basketball team. Brian Wiseman, meanwhile, handles track and field, golf and assists in football.

The staff is broken up into pseudo position coaches, where each assistant is responsible for six players each day. The assistants are not only responsible for training, but knowing their players inside and out, their ups or downs.

Don Decker

"We have a great staff," Decker said. "When you look around the room and you've got those kinds of guys, it helps in respect to the players. They can communicate with the players of what we're looking for and what our expectations are."

Decker has added to his staff with two of his former players while at Arkansas. Junior Soli, a former defensive lineman on both the college and professional level, was given the title of Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. Kevin Woods, a former defensive back and Arkansas team captain, is an intern.

Decker said the team has been more than receptive to the new additions. Soli works alongside Wilfawn with the defensive linemen, while Woods, naturally, handles the defensive backs.

"They have just come in and done an incredible job. Just great, great assets to our program," Decker said. "They've been there and done that. They've walked in the same shoes (as our players). They can relate how what we want is only what's best for our players."

The success of Ole Miss' strength and conditioning program, at least to Decker, is grounded in the atmosphere developed by Nutt. Players want to be around the indoor practice facility, site of the team's state-of-the-art weight room.

The usual, strenuous task of weight training at Ole Miss has been made something to look forward to. The standard's been set.

"Now it's become the norm," Decker said. "It's become the standard. (The players) know what's going to happen on a daily basis and have accepted it. There's a lot of positive, a lot of smiles and a lot of fun."

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