Taylor Estes - HornsDigest.com


Get to know Texas' new strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight, Tom Herman's "acting head coach" and "coaching soulmate" ...


1 ... Has worked with Tom Herman at Rice under David Bailiff (2006-08), at Iowa State under Paul Rhoads (2009-11), at Houston (2015-16) when Herman was head coach and now Texas. Herman calls McKnight his "coaching soulmate."

2 ... Previous Texas strength coach Pat Moorer called the area where injured players went to rehab their injuries and put in a lot of other  strength and conditioning work "The Pit." McKnight has a similar philosophy and calls his area for injured players "Area 51" - "You know, a restricted zone, should be hard to find ... "

3 ... Frequently asks players who were highly rated out of high school, "How many stars are you now?" ...  "You were a four or five-star coming out of high school, but what are you now? At Houston, we may've brought in two or three star guys. But that's not what they are now. They got developed into more than that."

4 ... Players McKnight worked with in college who have gone on to the NFL:  As strength coach at Houston under Herman ... CB William Jackson III (1R, Bengals), LB Elandon Roberts (Patriots), WR Demarcus Ayers (Steelers), RB Kenneth Farrow (Chargers), DS Nolan Freese (Seahawks), S Adrian McDonald (Chargers) ... Under Paul Rhoads at Iowa State - OL Reggie Stephens (Bengals), S David Sims (Eagles), CB Leonard Johnson (Panthers), OL Kelechi Osemele (Raiders), LB A.J. Klein (Panthers), LB Jake Knott (Eagles, Dolphins), LB Jeremiah George (Jags, Bucs, Cowboys) ... As assistant strength coach under Les Miles at Oklahoma State - DT Kevin Williams (Vikings), DE Antonio Smith (Texans), TE Billy Bajema (49ers, Rams, Ravens), OG Charlie Johnson (Colts, Vikings) ... As strength coach at Rice - TE James Casey (Texans, Eagles, Broncos), S Andrew Sendejo (Vikings), WR Jarrett Dillard (Jags, Lions) ... As strength coach at La Tech ... CB Tramon Williams (Packers, Browns) 

5 ... While a lot of college strength coaches don't believe in dead lifting or power cleaning because they are dangerous lifts if not done properly, McKnight believes in those lifts big time to maximize lower body strength. "High risk, high reward. You have to teach those lifts the right way, and we do." McKnight met with former U.S. Olympic weight lifting star Mark Henry on Thursday, and they discussed weight lifting philosophy. "We've got some good teaching resources here thanks to guys like Mark," McKnight said.

6 ... At Houston, McKnight said 5-star DT Ed Oliver arrived as a freshman last season at 260 pounds, able to back squat 530 pounds, bench 365 and power clean 305. In seven weeks, at the end of last summer, Oliver weighed 275 and was able to back squat 610 pounds, bench 405 and power clean 335.

7 ... McKnight, who said he is constantly researching new and innovative ways to increase strength and conditioning, said the greatest influences on him as a strength coach have been the philosophies of Joe Kenn, strength coach of the Carolina Panthers, and Chris Doyle, strength coach at Iowa


On his assessment of the team in Week 1 of winter conditioning: “Day four, today. Week one, day four. Went outside today and hit some conditioning a little bit today. The introduction of some of our conditioning. Really this week was an evaluation week. We tested on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is our first Monday lift for next week, really and truly, week one. Same thing with our conditioning workout today. It was good. I think the guys are hungry, eager, eager to work. Got a lot of good looking bodies, size, and potential. Just got to get to work.

On Tom Herman calling McKnight his ‘coaching soulmate’: As crazy as it sounds, I know we’re different looking guys, but same mentality. Pretty simple, blue collar approach, accountability, discipline, the importance of a hard day’s work, and doing it for each other. I think that’s why we’ve got such a good staff of coaches, too. Not a lot of egos on there if you really look at it. Lot of guys that have what you call an attitude of gratitude. That’s probably why we hit it off so fast and so quick.

On how he gets buy-in with players: I think relationship is important. You know what, it’s like I told them day one on the team meeting, relationships, just because I’m a coach, yes there is some respect factors that you’re going to have automatically because you’re a coach. But, at the same time, respect and trust is earned, not given, and that’s both sides. I told them that same thing. I don’t expect them, right this minute, to respect me completely or trust me completely yet. I’m going to work day and night, every day and every minute, to earn it from them. And likewise. But it’s also really easy to lose it. It’s not really breaking them down. They’re going to work. We’re going to work hard and we’re going to work smart, do those things, and they’re going to train. I think they’re hungry. The standards this place has at the University of Texas, they know those and they understand that. I think they’ll be on a mission to change that.

On how he builds a winning mentality on a team that has suffered three straight losing seasons: It takes time. Stress and duress brings out character in people. We haven’t done that yet. That’ll be an ongoing thing. That will be done in winter offseason. That will be done in spring ball. That will be done in summertime. That’ll be done in camp. That’ll be done somewhere in the fall next year. There’s going to be a game where, hopefully, it goes the right way, but it’s going to be an ‘a ha’ moment for our guys and for our program and understand why we do what we do, and they’ll reflect back to some tough mornings in February and all that other stuff. I’m pretty confident in that. No not yet. I haven’t seen that. People under pressure, that’s when true character comes out. Or, when people aren’t watching is when true character comes out.

On his reaction to news out of Oregon that three players were hospitalized from winter conditioning and the strength coach suspended: The way they (the players) walk in is the way they need to walk out. That’s what you want. I know we’ve got outstanding athletic trainers. We’ve got an outstanding plan in place. I know our guys have been off for five weeks because they didn’t get into a bowl game, maybe six. Take that into account that, probably more than likely, a lot of them hadn’t been doing much. So you have to take that into account. So you’re rest times, like today with your conditioning this morning, it’s not the same rest times it would be in June or July. It’s going to be a little bit longer. I think you’ve got to take that into consideration when they’ve had long breaks. That’s what you sit down as a strength staff, nutrition staff, football staff and athletic training staff, when you devise your plan of what you’re doing, that those things are in place. You’re looking at time off. If you’re in the middle of the sixth week of a training session, it’s a little different than coming off a five or six week break. I think we can all attest to that, taking a month off and when January 1 hits, we all want to go hit the gym. We’re sore. That’s our plan in place.

On the importance of his position - the one coach who can be around players year round: You’re the acting head coach, per se. He’s always a phone call away, or who knows where he’s at. You never know. He’s around sometimes, you know what I mean? It is a big responsibility. That involves a lot of trust from him to us as a staff. We respect that highly. That’s kind of what it is in the winter offseason. Especially the summertime, too. Probably summer more than anything because position coaches have got to take vacation time at some point. July is usually that time. They’ve got camps going on and all that stuff, too. They got a lot of stuff that they’ve got going on, too. It’s important, but that goes back to if you listen to Coach Herman talk about alignment in our program with our players and staff, the players understand that. That’s an important part of it.

On any players who might have stood out to him in the first few days: You look at Connor (Williams), the left tackle. Yeah, that’s what they should look like. The corners are some good looking kids. I think I measured a couple of those kids at 6-foot-2, flat-footed - the way the scouts are going to measure them, and you’re like ‘Whoa, that’s a good sized corner.’ There’s some kids, you know, Malik (Jefferson) is a good looking kid. Just got to hammer away at them and do what we do, and get them up to speed with what we’re going to do with our program, what the demands are of them in practice, and what their position coach is going to want.

On what Herman saying to players they are going to work harder than they've ever worked means to him:  It just means we do what we do. The one thing that’s great with coach is we train hard year-round. He trusts what we do, he trusts what we do in the weight room, he trusts what we do with the players, he’s seen it when we were at Rice, he’s seen it when we were at Iowa State, and, let’s be honest, there’s not a lot of four and five stars at Rice. There wasn’t a lot at Iowa State. You start looking at it, and we won some games, developed some kids and put some kids in the NFL that weren’t highly ranked kids. We trained. We trained hard year round. We trained smart, but we got under the barbell during the season. We trained hard. When you’ve got the support from the head football coach to do that stuff, and sometimes it’s not that way. It is what it is, but not all programs are the exact same way. Sometimes it’s different. Luckily, our philosophy is what it is. It’s great for us as a strength staff too, so we can train the guys and they can continue to develop throughout the whole year. A lot of places they don’t want to do that in season.

On the mindset he wants the players to have: I think the sense of urgency and I think the sense of every time they walk in the building, that they have to know they are coming there for a purpose and a reason. They have to be mindful of not just coming to work, but they’re coming to get better, and that has to be the thought process. They have to be thinking that when they come to a training session, or practice, or whatever it may be in the building, that they know they are coming here to get better. In turn, the demand is going to be high. They have to have that urgency and that thought process every time they come into this building. That is a challenge to make them understand that, too. It’s not ‘I’ve got to go lift.’ It’s ‘No, I’m going to go train and develop my craft and get better.’ You’ve got to tell them the why. You’ve got to explain why we do what you do. I think we all would agree if you just go to work every day without any purpose, it’s hard to do that. It’s hard to get up and get motivated, I don’t care what job you do. That’s what you have to do. I feel like we do a really good job of explaining the whys. Why is it important to hydrate? Why is it important to sleep? Why is it important to practice hard? Why is it important to tackle? Why is it important to be on time? To touch the line? To go to dinner when we ask you to go there, or to study hard? Those things had to be explained. Back in the day, no one explained that stuff. Now coaches say this is the why generation. I like it. I’m good because I was part of that deal where they just told you, ‘Just go’ and didn’t ask. Now, I like it because to me I get more buy in. The kids, when they see that we have a plan and they see the plan in action and the plan is working for them, the buy in stuff is easy to be honest with you.

On dividing the team into GOLD, GREEN and CRIMSON groups with GOLD the highest, then GREEN, then CRIMSON: It’s crimson for our guys that need help, that can’t get to class. It’s ongoing, right now. Every day is an evaluation. If you can’t get to treatment on time, we’re going to have to put things in place to help you, to remind you, things like that. If you can get to where you are supposed to go and do all your stuff, you get treated like a big boy. If you can’t do all those other things and can’t set your alarm clock, we’re going to have someone do it for you. Then you’ve got a lot of responsibilities. You’ve got to check in and do all that stuff. I’m sure it gets monotonous, but once they change their pattern of behavior, we’ll take some restrictions off. You’ve got your ‘gold’ guys. (McKnight was asked if those are your captain, veteran kind of guys?) Yeah, and maybe even young guys who are doing it the right way, and are mature, and handle their business, and their position coach ain’t going to run all over town chasing them around to find them for class or getting them to a lift or whatever it is. Green guys are transitioning up, green like a traffic light, moving that way. Gold like the gold standard. (McKnight was asked how they came up with CRIMSON, he smiled) Crimson, like a stop light I guess was the closest thing.

On how peer pressure can work on players in the CRIMSON group: Think about this, peer pressure, that develops leadership. What are we complaining about in our country all the time is that we don’t develop leaders. That’s not going on anymore. Peer pressure is a good leadership tool because it does get guys to step up and say ‘Hey, we need you to be academically eligible so we can have you play football,’ or ‘We need you at training sessions, so you are 100 percent effective during practice or that way you’re ready to go for games.’ I think peer pressure is good. Then again, like I said, it puts ownership in it, too. When they’ve got ownership and they’ve got buy in, when you go and maybe stub your toe somewhere that you shouldn’t, then it hurts a lot more and it’s not fun. It hurts you to lose.

On his top priority for players from now until spring ball: I think the urgency stuff, I think we’ve got to continue to work on that. Urgency and then I’m not going to say toughness, it’s probably more urgency and understanding that every day matters and every rep matters. I think Coach Herman uses ‘being fourth and one' all the time. That type of mentality needs to permeate throughout this building daily. That’s going to come. It’s going to come on Monday. It’s come the past couple days. They’ve just got to understand that. I think they will. I think they’re really eager to make a change.

On what his plans are in developing Shane Buechele: We’re going to work on his lower body, get him stronger in his lower body. That’s the one thing with a lot of quarterbacks. I know with Greg (Ward, Jr.) at Houston that he was a 162 guy when we got there and I think we finished at 188 with him. He’s 5-foot-10, and he’s a strong, strong kid. He was pretty durable this last year. That was what we challenged him with because the year before he was dinged up. I know Buechele kind of had the same thing last year. He got tagged around a little bit. So when you’re going in the weight room, you’re trying to build that armor, and trying to get them a little more durable when taking some shots here and there. I think the lower body stuff with the QBs is so, so important because that’s all their power and their torso whip from the throws and everything. You’ve got to hammer the legs with those guys and the power base. Upper body for the quarterback is the whip. That’s torso rotation, medball work, band work that they’ve got to do and continue to work on that motion. That’s post your point. I’m not a big (bench) press guy. We do a lot more back stuff than we do anything front side. All offensive linemen do is punch. So if you have them bench all the time, there's overuse with their shoulders and elbows and it leads to injury problems. The quarterback is a tricky one because you want him grinding right in the middle of it with all the other guys because he needs to be that guy. He’s got to be tough and he’s got to be an alpha, and he’s got to be grimy. 



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