SC On The Road: Strength coach Scott Cochran worth every penny for Crimson Tide

ARLINGTON, Texas. -- The things you'll hear about Scott Cochran are sensational.

"This dude is crazy."

"This guy is nuts."

"He's insane."

Keep in mind those are the words of his own players. And they're saying it with love and affection.

Alabama's strength and conditioning coach really is a madman. Spend five minutes with him and you'll understand that much. He seems incapable of sitting still. One player said he has seen him rub Icy Hot all over his body to get a jolt of energy -- a fact Cochran freely admits. His gravel-infused Cajun accent booms through doors and around hallways. It's as if he was born hoarse and decided to shout the soreness away.

But Cochran's outer-shell is one thing. You can get lost trying to characterize such a colorful character. Instead, you have to dig deeper to understand the effect he has on Alabama's football program and why Nick Saban fought so hard to keep him, fending off a job offer from Georgia with a raise that sources tell ESPN will push Cochran's salary north of $600,000, making him the highest-paid strength coach in college football.

He makes more than Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier, who helped develop Amari Cooper into a Heisman Trophy finalist. He makes more than Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns, who helped turn Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry into Heisman Trophy winners. And you know what? You'll be hard pressed to find anyone around the program who thinks the investment in Cochran isn't well worth it. According to one former player, he's the most important person on Alabama's payroll not named Nick Saban.

"I don't think there's any question. He's second in line," said Mike Johnson, who played at Alabama from 2006-09, won a national championship with the Tide and played a handful of years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. "If Coach Saban is the father of the program, [Cochran is] the stepdad."

"When I heard he might be going to Georgia," he added, "I was sick because I knew how difficult [it] would be to replace him."

ArDarius Stewart, a junior wide receiver, said he heard the Georgia rumors, too.

"I was giving him hell during practice like, 'Aw, man, you're a Bulldog,'" he said.

When the news release was sent out, stating Cochran would return, Stewart said he was "ecstatic."

Ignoring for a second the nearly unprecedented move by Alabama to send out a release that a strength and conditioning coach was being retained -- that doesn't happen with many coordinators -- there's a reason why Stewart and his teammates were thrilled by the news. They knew what so many on the outside don't: Cochran is Saban's secret sauce -- and it has as much to do with squats and dead lifts as the opening credits have to do with a great James Bond movie.

Yeah, the fact that Cochran is the best reality show never seen on TV is great, but that only sets the stage for a better story about the heartbeat of college football's latest dynasty.

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Johnson spoke for a long time on the phone about the virtues of Scott Cochran. At a certain point, though, it became clear something was missing.

"Notice I haven't talked about his lifting style and we've been on the phone 30 minutes?" he said. "That's a given. It's the energy. His impact is felt in a lot of other places and in a lot more ways than being a strength coach."

If you were to construct a resume for Cochran, his workout regimen would be listed behind his abilities as a sports psychologist, mentor and all-around player liaison.

Saban brings recruits in, but his time with players is limited by NCAA rules with large swaths of the offseason blacked out by no-contact periods. Cochran, on the other hand, is under no such restrictions. With the exception of a one- or two-week vacation, he's around 12 months a year, implementing Saban's "Process" by molding players from the inside out.

"Cochran spends more time with the players than anybody," former Alabama QB John Parker Wilson said. "He has a serious effect on everybody's mental attitude. The whole offseason, he's always yelling, but there's a method to his madness."

Players are initially in awe of him. Johnson said that when Saban took over in 2007 and brought Cochran in, he thought Cochran was an assistant coach. He and a few teammates asked, "Who is this guy? What is this guy's deal and what makes him think he can come in here yelling?"

Johnson soon discovered another side to Cochran. When he needed someone to talk to, Cochran was there. He'd close the door and suddenly the madman was gone.

"He's able to work both sides of the fence," Johnson said. "He's a coach, but he's also a young guy at heart to where he can really relate to a lot of players and still flip around on the other side and go upstairs and be in the office and put that coach face on.

"That's why I think he's such a key to that program because he can really relate to both sides and make it function the best."

Even eight years after Cochran's arrival, players are saying the same thing.

Alphonse Taylor, a veteran offensive guard, saw Cochran for the first time as a freshman in high school and said he was "scared" of the coach "bouncing off the walls and screaming and yelling."

"I wasn't used to seeing that, not out of a coach anyway," he said. "He was just intimidating."

And what about now?

"He's one of my best friends," Taylor said.

That relationship is not unique to Taylor. Richard Mullaney, who transferred to Alabama this offseason after beginning his career at Oregon State, said he sees Cochran as a mentor. He calls him the "glue to the team."

"He's a guy that you can go to for anything, honestly," Mullaney said. "Doesn't matter what it is, if it's personal or [you] just want to go and talk with him about anything. Doesn't matter. I find myself in his office quite a lot just talking."

Said Taylor: "It was about my sophomore year and my uncle died and I just wasn't feeling ball anymore. I wasn't feeling it. I had lost my self-motivation and my drive to just keep playing. And he talked to me and talked to me every day and he just stayed with me."

Now Taylor is a starter and the sparkplug of the offensive line, a firecracker off the ball who is constantly jumping up and down and shouting in the huddle.

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If you've followed much Alabama football over the past few years, then you've probably heard about the Fourth Quarter Program. It's Saban's offseason conditioning program, and it's Cochran's baby.

For freshmen, it's an initiation process to the Saban/Cochran mindset.

When players talk about the energy Cochran brings, it's borne out of those 6 a.m. exercises. It's him screaming to give more effort. It's his policy that no one is allowed to quit. Even if you puke, it's him telling you to get up and keep going.

"The Fourth Quarter was hell. I can't lie," Taylor recalled. "But every time after that, it's gotten better and better. It's fun now. You embrace the work, embrace the grind."

Said linebacker Dillon Lee: "Guys go from falling out and cramping and can't finish. Then the next week they're killing it."

It's called the Fourth Quarter Program for a reason. It bleeds over into the season. As soon as the third quarter is over in games, Cochran holds four fingers up with both hands. A video is played inside Bryant-Denny Stadium with Cochran shouting for more enthusiasm, and fans and players oblige.

Since 2009, Alabama has outscored opponents in the fourth quarter by a combined 404 points, which is the biggest scoring margin in the country over that time.

Alabama teams simply get stronger as the game goes on. Derrick Henry, who won the Heisman Trophy, has more yards after contact in the fourth quarter than any running back in the country this season.

It's not just strength and endurance; it's attitude, which comes from Cochran.

He's a 36-year-old father of three, and he finds a way to connect with teenagers, and not just match their energy, but encourage even more out of them.

"That, to me, is the best part about this job," Cochran said. "It keeps you young."

As Alabama prepares to face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, it's Cochran who is helping set the tempo this week.

He doesn't coach a single position, yet makes the same salary as most on-field assistants.

Sure, he may not be an X's and O's guy, but he's the only person other than Saban to coach the entire team, and he gets to work with them all year long.

He's a little bit crazy. He's also a little bit brilliant.

For Alabama and Cochran, it's a perfect match.