Inside SC Interview With Chris Carlisle

Click below for the WeAreSC interview with Trojan strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle including his thoughts on the attitude of the players while training and goals for expansion of the weight room.

WeAreSC "When we arrived for this interview you were working with Doyal Butler on some film work to review his sprint form. How much is video used for your program?"

Carlisle "We videotape our kids throughout the training process. Men are such visual learners, they're not always good auditory, so if I can show them a picture of something that shows how they're doing it and why they're doing it then we can go back and review the tape and it makes sense to them. Instead of sitting back and saying "You're not putting your foot underneath your hip" or "Your arms are paddling" now I can pop in a tape and they go "Oh, OK, I see what I'm doing". Females are better auditory learners, males are mostly visual. I'm a big visual learner, you can look around this office and see that I've got everything drawn out on the board. My wife says I'm not a very good listener and maybe I don't learn real well that way but if I can show a picture then I can explain it. I've been real fortunate in 18 years of coaching to have been around some very good technicians who spent time with me and taught me. In that time you're gonna be around some great coaches and I've learned from every one of them. I've got two speed notebooks up there on the shelf and all these are programs we've used in the past. The hardest thing is that I get e-mails all the time from people asking me to send them our program. I'd have to send those notebooks, those programs, I'd have to come along with it because those 18 years of accumulation of knowledge and development of a program isn't really something you can write down on a piece of paper."


WeAreSC "What are some of your goals for the winter program?"

Carlisle "Every day we evaluate where an athlete is and where he's needing to go, we may need to lighten up some guys and we may need to make others heavier. The needs of each athlete are different but we're trying to take these high school athletes and develop them to give them a chance at this level. The needs of Dallas Sartz, who started the January program at 211 pounds, are going to be different from Mike Williams. Dallas has gone up to 219 while lowering his body fat. Mike Williams started at 223 and he's now at 227 with a lower body fat. Some people may think Mike isn't working out as hard as Dallas but we can't have Mike getting any bigger so his program is different. He's a wide receiver and we want to keep him at wide receiver. Mike has all the physical tools you want, he's a big, strong, powerful athlete and what I have to do is make him faster and work on his agility. Once we do that then he can work with Coach Chow, Coach Kiffin and Coach Sarkisian to better learn the game of football. He'll understand how to set up routes, how to put himself in the right positions, stuff like that and that's a learning process. You walk into an NFL camp right now and he'll probably look better than some of the guys already there because he's such a physical athlete."

WeAreSC "Were there moments last year when you smiled during a game because you knew conditioning was a factor?"

Carlisle "It's hard because I'm one of those people who always thinks we could be doing something better. At the end of the season I thought conditioning wise that we'd done a great job. The kids were playing hard in the fourth quarter and that became a hallmark of the program. There are times I see athletes on the field doing certain things that we worked on and it feels good but I still think we're not a finished product. We have things we can change and athletes who can become even better. Maybe I'm being hard on myself but I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg, there's a lot of good stuff to come. Great credit has to be given to Coach Carroll and Coach Chow for getting them ready and inspiring the kids to play the second half. Credit also has to be given to the athletes for working as hard as they do because we don't do normal stuff. We're a little nutty on what we do, it's all consistent and organized and planned out but we ask these kids to do a lot. They played their last game on January 2nd and were back in here on January 16th. It was the same last year, the preparation for Notre Dame didn't start the week before the game, it started in the off-season. Each athlete has his own set of good and bad things we need to work on. Body position, agility, change of direction, speed, catch-up speed. It's a lot of different things and it all deals with speed and power. That's what I'm looking at, how do I get that defensive end who was a part-time contributor and make him a full-time guy? What's he lacking? I'm at each practice, at each game and I'm not just there as an observer. I'm studying what we're doing and how we can make each guy better. I have 100 guys in football and each one has something he can get better at, nobody's finished yet. It was that way with Carson and Troy, they had some things we needed to make more efficient and I think we did a good job helping them become better athletes this year than they were last year. The offensive line was more physical. Our defensive line was more agile and I think they can get even better. Kenechi Udeze came in here as a 350 pound guy, last year he ran like a 300 pound guy and this year I want to get him running like the 275 pound guy that he is. That's the type of progression we're looking for."

WeAreSC "What type of training is going on right now?"

Carlisle "We split the week into four days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) with Monday and Thursday being our explosive movement where we work speed and agility. Tuesdays and Fridays are our strength days, squats and presses. Every day we work core. You have to start off with that right away, it's a big part of our development with the abs and lower back. Without that we can't get anything else done and I think that's a process we went through where we were better in that area and it paid off on the field. People will ask "how much can a guy bench?" and I don't think that has anything to do with being a good football player. The bench press is a minor movement whereas the core is a major movement and once your core is better then you're a better football player all around. So every day we do core, plyometrics and med ball. We do our Olympic lifts, we do one-legged movements because football is a game of one-legged movements. You can't squat by itself and be a good football player. We squat quite a bit as a strength base but we don't say that's all we do with our legs. It's the old "weakest link" theory, if the right leg can squat 400 and the left leg can squat 450 then how much can the body squat? It's 400 pounds because the body can only do as much as the weakest link. If we work one leg at a time we can work through that and get the legs working independently of each other much like we do when we're running. Running is a series of one-legged bounds, not a two-legged hop. If we make one leg as strong as the other then we have two legs that can squat 450 and we're safer. That's a big thing, safety is always a major issue not only in the weight room but if we make the athlete stronger, more explosive and more flexible then hopefully they are safer on the football field and we can have a hand in reducing the amount of injuries. It's a violent game, there are going to be injuries, that's just the nature of the beast, but we want to do everything we can to minimize the amount of injuries and speed up the recovery time. If anything I think we do a good job with that. Our starters are out there starting more games than players from other programs. We're outside for about 45 or 50 minutes before we come in the weight room for 45 minutes or so. I think that shocks some people. There are some in my business who can push too hard but that doesn't do any good, we want to take the athlete to the edge of his limits and then we'll pull him back. Some guys you just can't make tired, Grant Mattos was one of those kids, you could just run him all day and he wouldn't get tired. You don't get too many kids like that, we've got more kids who we need to help get to that edge and that's what we were talking about when people are calling asking about our program. It may say to run 12 reps but sometimes after 10 the athletes are gassed and I'm gonna pull the plug and say we're done or they might still have gas left after 12 and we do 14. It just gets down to how the athletes are running, how they feel and how I feel like they feel."

WeAreSC "Are there are new elements you will be adding to your program?"

Carlisle "One of the things we're going to work a lot this summer is heart rate monitoring. We want to find out what the working heart rate is for these athletes and how long they can rest and still stay in the working zone. It will help us because most of the studies done in this area are done with untrained college students but I'm not dealing with that type of student. I'm dealing with highly trained and motivated athletes so the studies being done now are skewed and I can't live by them in my world. We've got an athlete who can go beyond what the untrained college student can do so what we want to do is establish a baseline and find out where we're at. Will our results be any different than the ones being done now? I don't know but I'm sure most researchers would give anything to come in here and work with our athletes. We put our athletes through some balance tests with physical therapists and our kids knocked the top off what they expected. They didn't expect such great improvement in what we did but, once again, we're dealing with highly motivated athletes instead of an injured person or a 60 year old grandma. What we're doing is really breaking new ground and that's part of the neat stuff that we do here in that we don't just accept what we do. We're innovative, we're not out chasing the bus at all, we don't want to be chasing somebody else's tailpipe. We see what we do and we like what we do because it allows us to be not only a training center but also a research center as well. This tool right here (pointing to a machine in the corner of his office) measures explosion, power and energy, velocity, force. It's all computed right here and works in conjunction with that first rack right there (pointing to the weight room). We've found with athletes that we've trained that we can make them more explosive and work them through that range of motion faster over a period of time using our program. We know we're hitting on the edge because what we're doing is working and the results show. You can look at the football field and say we're winning but what are those things and what exactly are we doing? We believe conditioning is something we do well so let's go ahead and put these heart rate monitors on the athletes now and see what the readings are. We take a lot of pride in what we do as a staff. We're not 8 to 5 guys, we come in early and we stay late to get the work done here. Our first group comes in at 6:00am and yesterday morning we had 43 guys in here at that time. Now, they've got to come at some point for a workout but they have a choice of 6am, 8am, 10am or 1pm. It's not unusual to get that many guys at the early workout and that says a lot about getting the work done."

WeAreSC "Do the players work out by position?"

Carlisle "The coaches have told the offensive linemen they want them in here as a group working out together. Jacob Rogers came to me and talked about how Justin Fargas had joined with the linemen for his workouts all last year and the impression that made. Jacob said, "We believed in him and trusted everything he was doing because he was with us, we knew he trained hard" and he asked me to talk with Hershel Dennis about doing the same thing. I spoke with Hershel and he said "hey, I'll be there" and so now Hershel's there at 6:00, not because he has to be but because he wants everybody to believe in him too. Hershel's at 191 pounds right now. He's leaner than what he was, he started at 183 with 4.8% body fat and now he's at 4.7% body fat. So he lost a tenth of a percent body fat while gaining 8 pounds but where did he put that on? We didn't add a limb, we didn't add any fluids to his body, it's all packed on nicely and he's looking rocked right now. He's just a fantastic young man to work around and be around, there's no ego there and he's gonna be a big part of the future of this program."

WeAreSC "How do you keep the mometum going?"

Carlisle "I think one of the biggest worries we have, and I've seen it before, was that after a successful season sometimes people start to pat themselves on the back and read the newspapers and start thinking they're pretty good. With us, the very first day of training at 6am we had 42 kids show up so it's not like they said "hey, we're so good right now that we'll show up when we want". They are focused, they want to win the Pac-10 championship outright, they want to go to the Rose Bowl and everything after that is pure gravy. That's what the boss wants and that's what the kids want. When Coach Carroll talks, these kids listen and believe it too."

WeAreSC "You've been around college football programs at the highest level in recent years, how does the work ethic of this Trojan team compare with what you've seen from other schools?"

Carlisle "I'm seeing better things. I'm seeing a lot better things. These kids are more motivated, these kids are more accountable. We had two kids miss a workout yesterday because they had a flight snowed in from Florida after the long holiday weekend. They called their coaches and communicated, they wanted to make sure and let Coach Carlisle know that they wouldn't be here but they're right back in here today to make up the workout. It's been tough at other places to chase kids around because some of them are saying "hey, we're special, we've won, we don't have to train like that anymore." We don't have to find out where our kids are because they all show up. It's not one of those things where we don't see them for a week, they come in every single day, they all line up and they all do things right. The only thing we plan on changing, and I tell this to the kids all the time, is intensity and focus. You've got to increase that. I don't need to put more weight on the bar to make them better, I don't need to run them more to make them better, the blueprint is fine. All we need to do now is turn up the intensity to make every rep count. If you look at the two games we didn't fare well in, there were points in each game that if we were more focused and intense and if we didn't let the play get away from us then we would have been looking at the Fiesta Bowl and a shot at the national title. Who knows what we could've done but the point is that we're not adding stuff. We've got to increase the focus so that every small detail is important and all of a sudden you find yourself in the situation where you work that way all the time.

WeAreSC "Did you see a difference with conditioning this year?"

Carlisle "We go to a bowl game and hear all about the Iowa power, Big-10 smashmouth football but they had those big guys lumbering all over the field while our guys were sprinting all over the place. Our linemen are not fat, sloppy kids, they're physical athletic kids. Unfortunately we had Eric Torres go down with a broken ankle that was pretty severe but he was making the play ten yards downfield. It wasn't like he was standing still, he was downfield trying to make a block. That's the type of team we are, we run to the football. Our offensive line would come up to me after some games and talk about how they could hear the players on the other team huffing and puffing and breathing hard. Our kids, they want to please and they're seeing the reason Coach Carroll places such an importance on what we do. He said some very nice things after the Orange Bowl to reinforce to them the idea that when you work hard and put in the effort this is what happens."

WeAreSC "How much fun was it to be a part of what happened this year?"

Carlisle "It was my most enjoyable year of college football, without a doubt, it was fun. Our days are long, we work a lot and it's tough on families but it was so much fun being part of it. The coaching staff upstairs is a great group to be around, the athletes are so much fun but they do pick on me (smiling). The athletes are a little mean to me down here but that's the type of atmosphere we have because it's an intense, focused weight room. Don't get me wrong, we laugh in here, a lot, but if you want to come down here you better have a thick skin. We're around each other so much, I'm around them most every day of the year, so we're like one big family and you always poke some fun at the family. You've gotta have a thick skin to be in the weight room."

WeAreSC "How is your health?"

Carlisle "It's good. I feel great. I've got to go in for another check-up in March so we'll see what happens because I felt great before I was diagnosed the first time. I guess you don't really know until they inject the radioactive stuff in you to see how things are but I feel great right now."

WeAre "Talk about the attitude of the players in the weight room."

Carlisle "Coach Carroll talks about want to, the difference between want to and have to. I like to use the subwords get-to and got-to. There's only one letter separating get-to and got-to but you get to do something fun while you've got to do something you dont want to do. The get-to thing started with guys like Charlie Landrigan, Ryan Nielsen and Kori Dickerson and it continued this year with Malaefou, Troy, Carson and guys like that. They're all get-to guys. They get to go to the weight room, they get to train, they get to get better and the guys this year have just adapted that right up. When you see Keary Colbert and Kenechi Udeze there at 6:00 in the morning then you know they're get-to guys. It's wonderful to be around guys who want to train like that. We went from last year having 45 guys at 1:00pm because that was the last available training time and guys were thinking "OK, I've got to get my lift in" to yesterday when we had 43 guys at 6:00am and two guys at 1:00pm. There's your swing right there. The two guys who came in at 1:00 had to come in then because the class schedule didn't allow them to be here for the earlier sessions. It's gratifying to see that kind of thing."

WeAreSC "Talk about those 6:00am sessions."

Carlisle "Oh, it's stealth training at times. We get on that field first thing and in January it's pitch black when we're out there running around so early but these days the sun starts to peek out about halfway through our workout. We work our plyometrics, our jumping drills, we're looking to get the uninhibited movement with the three joints, we do med ball movement with 14 ball med balls trying to work the range of motion and core, speed and agility, anything that makes for a football player."

WeAreSC "You spend as much time on the field in the winter as in the weight room."

Carlisle "One of the reasons we don't spend a lot of time in here is because football games aren't played in the weight room. You can go look at the record wall in the weight room and out of 180 records listed over 100 of them are guys who have played in the last three years so our strength is fine. We set the new SC record a couple times last year in bench, the squat and the power clean. Of the 18 top names we've got 17 of them with Junior Seau being the only guy from the past and he's not a bad name to sit behind. So when people ask "are you gonna get stronger?" I say we're fine physically.

WeAreSC "Have you been able to put in your entire program yet?"

Carlisle "The program is really getting to be at full speed right now. You can't just come in here and dump a whole program on because they can't assimilate the movement or the work. It's taken two full years to get the foundation in place for the athletes to understand what we're doing and why. I think one of the best things our staff does is we explain why. If you can show an athlete why he's doing something then he's going to work harder. Instead of just saying to do some bag jumps or sand jumps with a sprint afterwards we put it into a game scenario and tell the defensive linemen that we're getting them ready to face the OL off the line in case he goes to the ground and you need to jump over him or if the QB fakes you out with a pump and you need to hit the ground and take off in another direction to go get him. Now when we say "jump, jump, run" it makes a lot more sense. We really take the time to explain everything so that the athlete can apply what we say to the rest of his career and his life. We talk about nutrition with what we eat, when we eat it and why we eat it. A lot of people think football players are big dummies but these are some intelligent young men who spend a lot of time doing this. If you look at the average student he goes to class and goes home, these kids have to go to class, train, practice and travel for games. We throw so much at them just in our program that we want to make sure and show them why we're doing it and adapt it to the football field. These are some amazing young men to be able to put it all together the way they do."

WeAreSC "Let's talk about some of the players and how they are doing this winter. How about Matt Grootegoed?"

Carlisle "Matt is still recovering somewhat from his leg injury and the first time he was able to really run with any intensity was during two a days last fall. He recovered enough to be an All Pac-10 football player and without a doubt he's one of the hardest workers we have, very much in the mold of a Troy Polamalu in that you don't know he's around because he's so quiet. He's not a hermit, he just only talks when it's important and he lets his actions do his talking. That's the way Troy did it, he didn't say much but the other players just followed his lead and Matt's the same way. If you walked someone into the weight room and asked them to pick out the top football players we have he wouldn't be picked just by looking at him because he flies under the radar but he comes to life when the lights come on and you find out where Matt is. Just look for the ball and you'll find out where Matt is."

WeAreSC "Matt Cassel, Mike Williams, Brandon Hance, Alex Holmes."

Carlisle "Matt Cassel is a highly wired young man. He's bouncing off the walls constantly, he's a great young man to be around, hard working, he was named Lifter of the Year two years ago, he really keeps a good pace up. Mike Williams is a phenomenal young man. He's leaned out a little bit, we took some of that baby fat off and he's walking around wearing tighter shirts now to show off his abs. He's got such a powerful lower body with great hips and legs so it would be really easy to let his weight grow. We're monitoring that closely. Brandon Hance is a case where sometimes with a transfer you wonder why he left or what was wrong but I havent seen a chink in his armor yet. He's comes in, he works his ass off and has a great rapport with the other kids. Alex is a great kid to be around, we're working with him on his weight, right now he's at about 270 pounds and I think he could lean out to 265 and lose some body fat. He came in as a freshman at close to 300 so it's been a process he's done well at and I think he'll do only better because he's such a hard worker."

WeAreSC "How about the three newcomers, Darnell Bing and the Tings."

Carlisle "Darnell is just a phenomenal athlete. He has the whole package physically but I haven't seen him play a down. He's here every day, works hard, has a great attitude and smile, doesn't say a word, just nods his head and goes to work. Ryan and Brandon Ting, they're really carbon copies because I can't tell the difference between them yet. They told me they thought they worked hard before they got here but this was something new so we're finding out where they're at. There's so much for these kids who come in at mid-semester, Brandon Hancock is a good example, when we can train them and work them while they're part of the team. It's almost like a redshirt year for them when they show up in August as more of a finished athlete who has been through spring ball and understands the terminology. Ryan and Brandon are two dedicated young men who don't know the word quit."

WeAreSC "How do you handle the issue of vitamins and supplements with the players?"

Carlisle "We tell our athletes not to put anything in their mouth unless it's been tested by our trainers or doctors. It's something that we have to be aware of, especially after the incident with the Orioles pitcher, because athletes often have a bullet-proof mentality. We make a big point of telling them to be careful, that just because something is sold in a health food store it doesn't automatically mean it's fine. The guy behind the counter doesn't know what's going to cause an illegal drug test with the NCAA. We've got a deal with MetRX that gives all of our USC athletes access to the MetRX program which is a great supplement to what they're already taking. We're not the general population who can take three meals and be happy with it, we're taking so much out of our bodies and it has to be replaced in a quick window of opportunity as soon as you finish working out because the body is screaming for protein and stuff like that. We recommend all our athletes take one multi-vitamin per day because they're not getting all the nutritional benefits they need on their own, I don't remember the FDA recommending pizza so I'm sure most college kids can use a little help."

WeAreSC "What are the different things you can do when a player needs to lose or gain weight?"

Carlisle "We work with the coaches to establish a desired playing weight, Mike Patterson plays best at 285, Shaun Cody at 275, we need to keep Omar around 250. Coach Carroll gives me an open door policy to sit in any meeting and it really gives me an idea of what they are looking for with each player instead of guessing how it will be applied on the field. We communicate with each other and that's the key. Gaining weight is tougher than losing weight because some of these kids have such a high metabolism. Sometimes you get kids who come in here working out three times a day and they still lose weight just blinking their eyes. We're not looking just to bulk a kid up, we work flexibility and core every single day because it's part of the overall program. We don't need them to look like Charles Atlas, we need them to be able to move so the body change has to allow for that. The kid who is trying to take weight off, we can work with him and monitor his weight because you don't add weight by eating right. We'll test them on a Friday and then again the next Monday because weekends are killer for those trying to lose weight. You can't just fast down through the week trying to make a certain weight and then gorge yourself on the weekend, the body needs certain things to keep going and we focus mostly on when to eat. We don't really restrict too much of what they eat and we don't ask them to cut out the good stuff in life. The word diet has die in it and we don't want our guys to cut out french fries and then die for them to the point where they eat a big platter with chili and cheese on top. Hey, have a couple french fries if you want but just don't overdo it. We resist what we don't need and we increase the amount of fluids we're taking in because Americans as people are constantly on the edge of hydration. Most of the time people will not drink water unless they're thirsty but by that time your body is saying "hey, I'm dying over here." A lot of our athletes will carry water around campus with them because it's a simple way to lose weight and keep the body hydrated."

WeAreSC "Are there any facility needs on your wish list?"

Carlisle "Yeah (pointing to diagram on wall), this 30,000 square foot facility that I have planned. I want to kick out through this wall here, go right under the intramural field and add the extra space which would give us a 40,000 square foot facility and would put us at or at least right with everybody else in college football. I have 600 athletes that come through here and I've got a little under 10,000 square feet of space which is nice. Oklahoma just built 34,000 square feet, Arizona just built a new facility to total 19,000 square feet and ASU was just named the best weight room in the nation. Nebraska, Texas is without a doubt one of the finest, Tennessee is expanding their facility and it's all become an arms race. To better train my athletes, I need more facilities. To keep recruiting the best athletes, we need to have something that we can show as a diamond in the crown, so to speak, to show that when you come here you train at the best facility possible. When Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery are in Southern California they come here to train so we've got facilities that they are comfortable to train with so it's not a matter of number of machines. I'm a minimalist when it comes to weight room stuff. If you look right now it's fairly barren, we've got 12 platforms, 10 squat racks and five benches. A couple USC alumni own IronGrip and they donated some equipment and the good thing about weights is that they don't wear out too quick so we're fine there. If I've got 45 football players in here with 20 baseball players, a few golfers and other athletes, however, then it's a situation where it can get pretty crowded real fast and you're looking at a safety issue. My primary concern is that we're safe. Secondarily, we're a top university in this country, we compete for national titles, we need to go ahead and be the top and be the program everybody wants to be. I don't want to just build another little weight room on to this, I want to go ahead and expand it out and make the best facility possible. That way, you set the bar so high that people can't get there. I want people to look at our facility and say "well, that's SC. Of course they have a facility like that, it's SC." I want to be the best, I want USC to be recognized as one of the top strength programs in the nation. Maybe it's my ego talking but I want people to say "hey, if we want to know something about strength and conditioning then we're going to SC". I want to have a five lane track that goes 70 yards, a sand pit, a padded mat area for plyometric and med ball work. Right now we jump in the sand pit at the track stadium and that's fine but it would be ideal to bring all the training into one facility. It would be a longer sand pit that we could use for training because sand is great for guys who are rehabbing knee injuries because there's less impact and they recover quicker. Of course we would add more platforms, racks and stuff like that because we would be more efficient in terms of training more athletes at once. I want to set one thing straight here, and I tell this to the coaches all the time, you give me two rusty bars and a rubber band and I'll get these guys ready to play football. When I was hired I knew what was here and I know we can compete but it's a lot nicer to compete on an equal level. Let's say you're an 18-year old athlete and you walk onto a campus to be recruited and they walk you into two different facilities, it can make an impact. Did we not get a kid because of facilities? I don't know but I don't want it to even be a factor. Coach Carroll and his staff, those guys are tireless and it shows with the top recruiting class in the nation. Let's take all that and have the best facilities too. That's my dream and I may be the only dreamer in the world but if you don't have a dream, if you're not trying to make things better, then what's the point?"

 


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