Kazadi fostering new attitude among Baylor players

May, 18, 2009
5/18/09
12:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After orchestrating organized chaos every day in his weight room, Baylor strength coach Kaz Kazadi has a unique way of relieving his own stress.

Long after his players have left the weight room, Kazadi gets his chance to work the machines late at night.

He'll stop for a few minutes as the only person in the gleaming room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. While there, he'll practice what he preaches to the Bears -- albeit at a much more sedate pace than what he typically fosters during their workouts.

 
  Baylor Athletics
  Quarterback Robert Griffin has taken advantage of the strength program at Baylor.

"I might have some slow rhythm-and-blues, maybe crank up some Marvin Gaye or some real slow jazz while I work out to really help me unwind," Kazadi said. "It's vital to my performance and longevity to do this. I have to be ready to emulate what we're preaching."

The extra work in the weight room obviously has paid off for Kazadi, a former linebacker at Tulsa. His own career isn't that far removed after he was sixth-round draft choice who spent a season with the St. Louis Rams in 1997. Later, he played four more seasons in various professional leagues before deciding to go into strength and conditioning coaching.

Today, he looks like he could still stack up a ball carrier or two in the Oklahoma Drill. With his bald head, ripped build and intense nature, Kazadi is reminiscent of Lou Gossett in "An Officer and a Gentleman" in his role of a drill sergeant training his young troops.

Kazadi hasn't been involved in any scrapes with any recalcitrant Baylor players like Gossett when he squared off with Richard Gere in a climactic scene from the movie. But if he did, it's understandable that Kazadi could take of himself against nearly any member of his team.

"If you are selling beauty products you have to look like you've used them," Kazadi said. "The whole thing is working with 18 to 20 year old kids who look my way, they have to know that I'm practicing what I'm preaching."

His power and build are a key part of his persona. But Kazadi is quick to say that a player can't stay intimidated by their strength coach if they expect to thrive in his conditioning program.

"I think it's important that they work very hard when they are with me, but it's not by intimidation," Kazadi said. "Obviously, there's an understanding and expectation that they are expected to do well. And it's in a very chaotic environment. These guys are expected to know what we want them to do and are held accountable for what they are doing."

Instead, he relies on other players to push his mantra to younger players as they develop in the program.

"The standard isn't set by me," Kazadi said. "I talk with the seniors and what they want. Those guys tell me what we want done and we work together to make it happen."

But it doesn't hurt that Kazadi is the one doing the demanding.

"My physical experience and the fact that I played at the levels I did have made a way for me," Kazadi said, chuckling.

That they have.

The bodies of Baylor players have been transformed since Kazadi arrived before last season shortly after Art Briles was hired. Linemen have slimmed down, fat has been changed into muscle and the strength and flexibility of players has been honed over the 18 months since the strength program was transformed under Kazadi's direction.

"You can see what we've been able to do because of Kaz," Briles said. "He's done a great job of building our program. I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the business."

Shortly after he arrived at Baylor from South Florida, Kazadi knew he had to make a definitive change in the Baylor program. The Bears haven't made a bowl appearance since 1994 -- tied for the longest of any team in a BCS-affiliated conference -- and needed an immediate attitude makeover.

Enter Kazadi and his get-tough attitude.

"When I took the job, I just felt I had to clear what had happened and remind people who they are," Kazadi said. "We have good athletes around here, but they just had amnesia about their ability to perform. All they had known in college had been shortcomings and failure. I just tried to be a detox to remind them they had some great athletes around here."

Early on, it was a challenge for the team merely completing Kazadi's drills. But they built and bonded through the intense workouts and started seeing some minor successes as they progressed over those first few weeks.

Kazadi's work is credited with much of the early turnaround in setting the stage for Baylor's 4-8 season last year. But there were still disappointments that saw the Bears lose three games by seven points or less.

So he still sees that he has some definitive work to do.

And instead of a uniform program that was employed in his first season for his players, Kazadi has tailored different aspects for his most diligent pupils. He believes by doing that, the Bears' development will be even more noticeable during the upcoming season.

"When we started, everybody was on a blanket program," Kazadi said. "But through the months, we've seen some guys who have been able to take it to different stages. "

The Bears have several key players who have becoming willing pupils for Kazadi and his philosophy.

Massive 340-pound defensive tackle Phil Taylor has become a quick proponent. So has All-Big 12 linebacker Joe Pawelek and quarterback Robert Griffin.

"It's just been really good for me and the team to do what he's giving us," said Taylor. "It challenges us, but it's built us for the coming season."

Griffin, a two-time winner of ESPN.com's "Workout Warrior" since his arrival at school, might be the ultimate exhibit in Kazadi's transformation of the Baylor program.

"Robert does a tremendous job of setting the pace around here," Kazadi said. "He has some days when he does things that are just amazing. He's so athletically gifted and we're taking him to a different level."

And for the first time in his athletic career, Griffin is competing and solely training in football. He's given up his world-class track career as a hurdler -- at least for the immediate future -- to concentrate on his football-strength development. It's resulted in Griffin becoming more football-ready than in any time in his athletic career.

"He loves to compete and just wants to compete with anybody around in any fashion," Kazadi said. "Guys like Robert can't stop competing, whether it's one-on-one basketball or having a foot race to the stop sign. He's in the middle of everything. And that's how he approaches our workouts."

Excitement is blooming around the Bears. Kazadi's workouts are taking place in a gleaming palace of metal and steel at the Bears' sparkling new workout facility. A new indoor training center is going up next door that will be ready in several months.

Tangible growth is also seen on the field as well. Many are thinking the Bears can snap the bowl drought this season.

"It&#39
;s an exciting time around here," Kazadi said. "I feel like the standards have been raised by me and the people around me. We can sense we're building something here."

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