Big Ten strength Q&A: Iowa's Chris Doyle

Chris Doyle is proud of what Iowa has built in the past 11 years. During Kirk Ferentz's tenure as Hawkeyes head coach, the program has become known as one of the nation's best for player development. Doyle has been there every step of the way, coming in with Ferentz in 1999 as the team's head strength and conditioning coach. For more than a decade, Doyle has helped unheralded recruits and walk-ons transform themselves into elite college football players and NFL prospects. His top pupils include Dallas Clark, Eric Steinbach, Chad Greenway and Robert Gallery.

Doyle recently shared his thoughts on shaping Iowa into a winner.

What has changed in your job between now and when you arrived at Iowa?

Chris Doyle: I don't think there's been much of a change. When we first got here, it was about building a culture, instilling the values that match the personality of our head football coach: show up, listen, learn, do your job, no excuses. That was the challenge in '99 and that continues to be the challenge. Complacency can very easily set in to a program that's had some success, and we've had some success. We've also experienced some disappointment, so for us, it's a matter of continuing to build the culture. The good news is we have very positive examples of guys who have done things the right way and who have thus been rewarded for it. So we have built-in examples to utilize, but the challenge remains the same every single year.

How would you describe your philosophy toward doing this?

CD: We recognize who we are and we have a niche in college football, and our niche is we're going to strive to be the absolute best at player development. When Coach Ferentz came here in '99, we said, 'We cannot be like everybody else in strength and conditioning and show up and beat great football teams. We have to do it better. We have to train harder, we have to train smarter and recognize that there's nothing comfortable about being a college football player, there's nothing comfortable about getting a degree, there's nothing comfortable about trying to perform at your highest level.' How do we do it differently? A big part of what we do is individualized program design.

We're going to look at three areas. We're going to look at training maturity, because everybody's different. We're going to look at functionality. Everyone has a different set of parents, different genetics, different medical backgrounds and different athletic backgrounds, so what functional needs do the athletes have? We screen every athlete. And the third thing is position specific training. There's extreme variation in skill sets. You're looking at a sport where a 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive back is going to compete on the same playing field as a 6-foot-7, 315-pound lineman. That needs to be addressed in their training.

How did you approach the challenge of working with guys that maybe weren't the top recruits or the big names?

CD: That's who we are. We don't shy away from that. At Iowa, the guys that have been the absolute most successful guys in our program, the guys who you see their pictures on the wall, are guys who share similar characteristics. They come from humble beginnings, none of them were heavily recruited, none of them were blue chip, 5-star recruits. They worked extremely hard and they were tough guys, smart guys. So you look at those qualities -- modest start, hard-working, tough kids who love the game -- we embrace that. We kind of relish that challenge of, 'Hey, we're going to bring a guy in that maybe flies under the radar in recruiting, but he's our guy.' Iowa football's not for everybody, and if you're looking to sample what Joe College samples when he goes on campus and there's a lot of different options for how kids spend their time, don't come to Iowa. We're not interested in Joe College. It's going to be challenging. We say we're going to try and progress at a faster rate than other teams, and I'm sure everyone says that. But it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to do it. And if we're going to do it, then our guys have to have a stronger commitment than everybody else.

Who are some of the guys who had to make major gains in your area to be successful?

CD: Dallas Clark and Chad Greenway were both 200-pound high school quarterbacks. There was one point in our program, I think nine of our 22 starters were high school quarterbacks. And what are we looking for? We're looking for tough, smart, athletic kids who are willing to work and love the game. And in small, Midwest towns, often times that's the high school quarterback. Get winners on the bus, guys that know how to compete, and we'll figure out where they're going to play. We have never had trouble getting a guy big enough. Robert Gallery was a 245-pound, three-sport athlete in high school. He completely changed his body. Eric Steinbach played some high school quarterback as a sophomore, junior, and then he's a tight end and now he's a [NFL] guard. These are guys who really metamorphosized. They were married to the right culture. And all the credit goes to those players. If it was the program, every single kid who walked through the door would go through a metamorphosis. That's not the case. They're special people.

After you conduct that initial evaluation, are you setting goals for them as far as weight, numbers, or is it more, 'Here's what I want you to feel like in six months or a year?'

CD: We are exact in the goals that we're setting for them: body-weight goals and body-competition goals, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, pro agility, vertical jump. We are exact and we are in constant communication with those athletes as to where they are in relationship to their goals.

What percentage of the guys reaches those goals before they're done?

CD: I don't know. A lot of guys exceed them. But the idea here is we're dealing with 18- to 22-year-old kids, and it's human nature to settle for less than what you're capable of. It's our job to paint a picture for these guys and show them what their capabilities are and to really expect more from them than they expect from themselves.

Has the game changed at all to make you emphasize different things than you used to?

CD: We're still stressing basic fundamentals, I don't think we've changed. We're still focused on how hard you push against the ground, the higher you jump, the faster you run. It's still basic nutrition. You have to eat well, you have to eat well at the right times. There's some technology within those parameters that is helpful. The field of strength and conditioning isn't very different than medicine. If you look at medicine 20 years ago, we're constantly improving our understanding of the way the body reacts to stimulus, so as we've evolved, hopefully we get better from year to year as we sit down and evaluate what we're doing. It's a constant evolution, but the practices have remained the same.

How do you interact with Coach Ferentz and the rest of the staff?

CD: [Strength coaches] have more exposure to the players than anyone else on campus, more than any academic personnel, more than their position coaches. They're really around us year-round, constantly. That's one of the big things I tell kids coming in the door, 'You better have an understanding and a comfort level with the relationships that are being developed in strength and conditioning.' We want them to have a comfort level on the way in, and then I tell them it's our job to make sure they're uncomfortable for the next five years, because if they're comfortable, they're not progressing at a fast-enough rate. But as far as our communication as a staff, it is a complete team effort. We're in constant communication with the coaches. We have a football complex here, we're under one roof, we see each other every day. They might not be interacting with the athletes because they can't because of certain NCAA rules. But we're all on the same page, and it's all directed from the top by Kirk. Kirk sees strength and conditioning as an extremely important aspect of our success, and we're empowered and supported 100 percent with what we do.