Despite the fact that they work in brand-spanking new sports complexes that are roughly the size of airplane hangars, and the fact that an increasing number are paid like coordinators, most strength coaches have not dispensed with the quirkiness and peculiar behavior -- and, in some places, attitude -- long associated with decades of toiling in relative obscurity in poor facilities for low pay.
For example, a phone call placed to nearly every strength and conditioning complex in the country will invariably be answered by a strength coach with the same gruff greeting: "WEIGHT room." There's a particular emphasis on the word "weight" and the greeting, if you want to call it that, has all the subtlety of a 45-pound plate hitting the floor. (You will no doubt hear similar sound effects in the background.)
Yet not all strength coaches, and weight rooms for that matter, are alike. Each coach has a different code of rules that are enforced upon student-athletes and guests alike. These items cover the entire spectrum: some induce a "Hey, that's cool" reaction, some are bizarre and some are downright head-scratching.
Here's a quick warmup set:
• If you visit the "Pitt Iron Works," the weight room lair of 30-year strength and conditioning veteran Buddy Morris, don't let him catch you sitting down -- sitting is prohibited and punishable by extra work. Don't expect to hear any music during your workout -- tunes are a privilege left solely to Morris' discretion. And, heaven forbid, don't yawn. Rumor is that offense is punishable by death.
• There is a giant white carpet "S" on the floor of the locker room in the Lasch Football Building at Penn State, which contains the weight room. Tradition dictates that Nittany Lions players avoid tramping on the "S" or risk the prescribed punishment of pushups. Once, Joe Paterno violated the rule. The octogenarian coach reportedly begged out of the pushups due to a injured shoulder and proceeded to rip off 50 situps instead.
• At Florida, strength coach Mickey Marotti doesn't give you a chance to step on the Gators logo at the entrance to the 25,000-square-foot Griffin-Oakley Strength and Conditioning Complex, a sparkling, first-class facility that recently underwent a $28-million facelift, and screw up -- it's surrounded by velvet ropes. But Marotti, who runs his weight room like a Marine Corps base and has inspirational quotes from military legends and leaders such as Winston Churchill adorning the walls, is a stickler for uniform behavior, not to mention uniforms. One of Marotti's rules is that no one is allowed to train in his weight room wearing gear featuring the logo of another team, college or professional. I was wearing an old Texas Longhorns cutoff T-shirt when Marotti interrupted my workout. He took me to a storeroom where he produced a Florida T-shirt that was probably a size XXXL. Despite the fact that I'm 185 pounds, I dutifully put it on and finished my workout. I still have the shirt, which I'll use the next time I go sailing or visit Marotti's weight room. If I'm allowed back in, that is.
Writer and historian John D. Lukacs is a consultant for "College GameDay." His first book, a true World War II adventure titled "Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War," is available at booksellers nationwide.