UGA rejuvenates S&C program

ATHENS, Ga. -- After losing four of five assistant coaches from last season's football strength and conditioning staff -- three of whom left for better financial and professional situations -- Georgia has shown a new willingness to compensate its strength coaches this offseason.

After hiring new senior associate director of strength and conditioning John Thomas and associate director Sherman Armstrong in March, Georgia will pay those two alone ($140,000 to Thomas and $85,000 to Armstrong) more than last year's combined salaries of departed assistants Keith Gray, Thomas Brown and John Kasay, soon-to-depart Rex Bradberry and remaining staffer Tony Gilbert (a total of $189,461).

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt stopped short of calling the turnover an overhaul of the strength program. However, he said with Armstrong, a speed specialist, and Thomas, Georgia identified candidates who could help the program. Thomas spent 20 years as head strength coach at Penn State and is one of about 100 who have earned the title "Master Strength and Conditioning Coach" from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. The University of Georgia knew it must offer an attractive compensation package to bring both to Athens.

"We looked at a need," Richt said. "The need was for speed, so that's why we wanted to go find a great speed guy and do what it takes to get him. And then when John became available, that was kind of a unique situation where we were like, 'You know what, if we can get this guy, we need to get him.' "

The nitty gritty

That represents a new attitude for Georgia as it relates to its strength and conditioning payroll. DawgNation recently completed an open-records survey of 11 SEC football programs -- all but Vanderbilt, which as a private school is not subject to open records laws. The survey revealed that UGA football strength and conditioning head Joe Tereshinski at $150,000 per year made less in 2011 than all but one of those other 10 SEC head strength coaches.

Tereshinski, Gray and former strength assistant Clay Walker were among the Georgia staffers to whom Richt paid bowl bonuses out of his own pocket -- unknowingly an NCAA violation, which Georgia self-reported last year -- when UGA in December 2009 cited "difficult economic conditions being experienced by the University" in refusing to make those traditional bonus payments.

Further, while Georgia ranked in the middle of the pack in total 2011 salary devoted to full-time strength assistants -- $157,621, not including the $31,840 Kasay made as a part-time employee -- it was last in per-assistant salary, at $39,405.25 for the four coaches.

It remains to be seen how Georgia's strength staff will shape up once the UGA Athletic Association completes its 2012-13 contracts at the end of June.

Bradberry is in the process of accepting a position training members of the U.S. Army Special Forces at Fort Bragg, but Tereshinski said this month he had not decided whether he will fill Bradberry's position.

"That's one position where we just may go get a GA," Tereshinski said, referring to hiring a graduate assistant. "Because in our profession, you have to have a door open to bring young people in and allow them to learn under the best and allow them to pursue and keep our profession growing. So I'll get with [athletic director Greg] McGarity and talk with him and see how he feels with John and with Sherman and with Tony, and when that time comes, when Rex finally does make that move, we'll look at filling it probably at that time."

Even if the position remains vacant, Georgia's three remaining strength assistants, Armstrong, Thomas and Gilbert, combine to make $260,000. That's $70,539 more than UGA spent on five assistants last year.

However, McGarity said in March when Armstrong and Thomas' hires were announced that their arrival does not represent a newfound focus on the strength program.

"I just think it's the approach," McGarity said. "I think it's having a leader in place that -- [Tereshinski] mentioned this to me, and I said, 'Go for it. It's your department to run. You've got to run it. I trust you to run that department. Mark trusts you to run that department. You make the decisions, and you have to deal with all the elements that are in that program. I'm not in there with you every day. It's got to be a group that you get along with and that challenge not only you as a coach but the student-athletes also.' "

Finishing strong

Every athletic department has its own philosophy on how best to attack its strength and conditioning plan. Some devote a large strength staff specifically to the football team -- Alabama had seven full-time coaches assisting football S&C director Scott Cochran in 2011 -- while others dedicate only one or two full-time paid staffers and supplement their work with that of graduate assistants, part-time coaches and unpaid volunteers.

A new NCAA rule goes into effect this year that will limit the number of strength coaches allowed on each staff to five, so Georgia could hire a maximum of one more assistant for this fall. But Tereshinski might stick with sharing leadership duties with Thomas and Armstrong, with support from Gilbert, the former Bulldogs linebacker who spent eight seasons playing in the NFL.

"We really don't have any great leader," Tereshinski said. "We're all three equal in my book, and the thing that's on the table that's most important is the development of our kids, the development of our players in strength and quickness and speed."

Quickness and speed are former track star Armstrong's specialties, and he already has created buzz within the Bulldogs' locker room regarding the potential improvements he can help players make.

"He hasn't showed us too much yet, because he just came in, but what he's shown so far has been really good," receiver Michael Bennett said. "I feel like it's really going to help our speed and agility and quickness, and that's what we need as a team."

Thomas seems to share Tereshinski's traditional strength training mindset, bringing his "High Intensity Training" regimen to the Bulldogs program. Thomas' strenuous program at Penn State emphasized developing endurance for success late in games, and the Nittany Lions won seven times by 10 points or fewer last fall.

"My version of high intensity is we're going to use whatever apparatus, whether it's a dumbbell, kettle bell, barbell, heavy object, machines, whatever it is, we're going to use it in a safe, very intense fashion, and we're going to try to get the most out of whatever exercise we're doing at any given point in time," Thomas said. "That's really it to put it in the simplest terms.

"There's a lot of misconceptions about high intensity. For me it's always about trying to find the best apparatus for that athlete to use, and not everybody can use and do every exercise, so we want to find the best exercise for that athlete to get the most results and the most benefits from what we're doing."

When Tereshinski took over the head strength coach role from Dave Van Halanger last year, his focus was to greatly improve the team's strength in order for the Bulldogs to win the fourth quarter. The team made progress in that area last fall, and the university went deeper into its pocketbook to build a staff that Tereshinski believes can further enhance the Bulldogs' improvement.

Even with the new faces and philosophies on staff, Tereshinski's goal of competing in the fourth quarter remains the same. He said last season was a step in the right direction, but the process continues.

"I feel like they're going in the direction that I would like them to go, very much so," Tereshinski said. "I think Coach Richt does, I think our coaching staff does, and we're just continuing to chip away at developing these kids. Our emphasis still is to win the fourth quarter. If you're the strongest, most powerful team in the fourth quarter, your chances of winning the game are pretty good."