'Everybody loves him'

A conditioning coach must make his pupils respect him. If he also manages to make them like him ... well, that's just gravy.

New Tennessee conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus seems to be succeeding on both counts.

"He's a real cool guy," senior linebacker Rico McCoy said recently. "He came in with a business-like attitude, saying that we're going to work hard and we're going to have fun. We've all bought into it, and the workouts are going great.

"Everybody loves him. He'll joke around with you but his workout routine is pretty serious."

McCoy's challenge this offseason was to gain some weight without losing any speed. Mission accomplished.

"My goal was to bulk up some more," he said. "That's what I've been doing since winter workouts. I've gained a couple of pounds. I'm up to 225 right now. I want to play around 223 or 225. That was my goal mainly - to bulk up. I've gotten stronger and gotten faster. I'm just trying to continue to get better."

Oddly enough, Ausmus is Tennessee's third conditioning coach of the past seven months. Johnny Long, who held the job from 2001-2008, was not retained when new head football coach Lane Kiffin was hired in December. Mark Smith was lured away from South Carolina, then cut loose after just six months on the job.

You'd think that going from Long to Smith to Ausmus in such a short time would require a lot of adjusting. Senior tight end Jeff Cottam says that wasn't the case, however.

"The change to Coach Smith was a lot different; he had a much different style of strength training," Cottam said. "But Johnny Long and Coach Ausmus have kind of similar philosophies, so it's about the same. The players are kind of used to what he (Ausmus) has been doing, and it seems to be working out a lot better for us."

Senior defensive lineman Wes Brown believes Ausmus' enthusiasm has helped boost attendance at offseason workouts.

"It used to be that you'd have the same old guys in here," Brown said. "You could pretty much know who you'd see when you came in here. Now you see every single guy, plus a bunch of walk-ons. The whole team is out here working together, and that's exciting to see."

Although Ausmus and the coaching staff deserve some credit for the increased enthusiasm for strength training, the players' deserve most of the credit.

"It's up to you to do what you want to do with it," Brown said. "The coaches can give rah-rah speeches but it's up to you as an individual to show responsibility. That's what's been exciting. Guys have taken it to the next level."

Like Cottam, junior defensive end Chris Walker thinks Ausmus has a lot in common with Long.

"They're pretty much the same," Walker said. "They had the same person that mentored them, so it's all about the same. Coach Ausmus is wanting explosion and stuff like that, so I think it's about the same."

In addition to improving the Vols' strength, Ausmus is hoping to improve their speed. As Walker noted: "There are a lot of fast teams in the SEC, so we've got to be just as fast as them."

Although stronger players make for a stronger team, Vols who excel in the weight room will help themselves, as well as the program.

Senior tailback Montario Hardesty said it best:

"You don't make All-SEC or All-American, you don't win 10 games, you don't win the SEC East without grinding in the summer time."

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