I understand the possibility of reader confusion regarding the intent of this month’s article, based on the title. In part, that comes from the purposeful wording of the title and in larger part because the overwhelming majority of powerlifting participants refuse to understand the importance of knowing the history of the sport. As some reach “older age” many also reach “elder” status and I know that I have been granted far more credit for everything for no other reason than my age and length of involvement in strength training. However, being an elder does allow me the advantage of understanding that there is a lot more enjoyment, potential for success as a lifter, and application to other areas if one knows and understands the origins and utilization of powerlifting through the course of the decades of its existence. I would frequently sit and talk with the lifters I was charged with improving, either in small groups, just “gals and guys hanging out and talking lifting,” or individually in order to impart specific instruction or advice. Invariably, those that heard and could relate to at least some of the sport’s history and legendary past performers did better relative to their own potential, than those that would more or less roll their eyes and say or think, “I just want to know this bench specialization program.”
I spent years speaking at the clinics/seminars for strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and high school coaches who most often doubled as football and strength coaches. Predictably, the latter group were my favorite to talk with either as an official presenter or informally in the course of a weekend’s activities because I had performed the same dual purpose job, both coaching football at Malverne High School and at a local private school while my interest in lifting weights and competing as a powerlifter left me as the only one on staff with the knowledge and experience to also give some type of strength training instruction to our players. In an era that spanned the 1960s through early 1980s, specifically assigned or hired strength coaches were few and far between. As a fully embraced and often reasonably compensated profession that enjoys a proliferation of full time strength and conditioning professionals extending to the high school level, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that most colleges establsihed a position akin to “strength coach.” The professional teams were even further behind in the realization that the health and performance of their players could be improved and protected with the addition of a specialized professional to their staffs. Please note the phrasing just presented: “specialized professional.”
Allow me please to give you a brief summary of material covered in the earlier TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS articles that Pete and Isiah have published monthly for the past eight-and-one-half years as it relates to powerlifting and its application by strength coaches in the sport of football. Although there were more track and field athletes “publicly” lifting weights relative to football players, and some coaches pushing their athletes to engage in some form of strength training, football has always been the more “visible” sport and thus the engine that has driven the application of weights-to-athletics:
1. There were no strength coaches in either college or professional football. There were individual athletes that lifted and enthusiastically encouraged their teammates or friends to lift weights but there was nothing done on an organized level until the late 1950s. I will add that there were a small number of high school football coaches who had fully organized weight training programs but they were most definitely the exception rather than the rule.
2. In 1955 Alvin Roy, a gym owner and former team manager for the 1952 United States Olympic Weightlifting Team convinced the Brown brothers, legendary coaches at his alma mater, Istrouma High School of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to utilize strength training to enhance the performance of their football teams. The ’55 squad became State Champions and placed four team members on the All State Team including All American Billy Cannon.
3. With a number of Istrouma standouts on the Louisiana State University football team, a rather mediocre team coached by Paul Dietzel, Roy did the same “sell job” to the LSU staff as he had done at Istrouma and the predictions for a ninth place finish in the Southeastern Conference for LSU instead became a 1958 National Championship and Coach Of The Year awards for Dietzel. Cannon went on to win the 1959 Heisman Trophy.
4. The influence of LSU and Cannon provided Roy with the opportunity to spread the word about the effectiveness of utilizing weight training in numerous university and high schools throughout the south and his program was installed nationally but with a definite regional bias. Roys’ programs included the squat, bench press, and deadlift but in truth, his background was in Olympic lifting and that was the dominant “athletic application” of lifting weights during that era so the emphasis remained on squats with the addition of overhead pressing and power cleans.
5. The pro ranks followed suit on a limited basis and although Alvin Roy is considered to be the “NFL’s First Strength Coach,” to be accurate, he was not, he was its first Strength Consultant. He installed a program for the 1963 San Diego Chargers who promptly went out and dominated the American Football League. He did the same for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, and Oakland Raiders from the late ‘60s through the mid-1970s but at no time was he a full time, always-in-the-building strength coach although his influence certainly opened the doors for the establishment of a full time profession.
6. It was not until 1974 that a full time strength coach, one whom was a full time member of the football staff, one fully and solely responsible for improving the strength and power production of the players was hired. Kim Wood became the very first full time NFL strength coach, working for the legendary Paul Brown at the Cincinnati Bengals. Wood remained in that position until retiring thirty years later.
On the collegiate level, the status of “first” belongs to Boyd Epley and his hiring and the establishment of the strength program at the University of Nebraska was a major step for both the profession and powerlifting.
Part Two To Follow