- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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You could call Buddy Morris the dean of Big East strength coaches. He hasn't been in his job for the most consecutive amount of years in this league, but he's in his third different stint with Pittsburgh dating back to 1980. If anybody knows the Panthers football program, it's Morris.
He's also extremely popular with current and former players, and that's no surprise given how much time they spend with him. I caught up with Morris last week for a brief Q&A session:
What is your philosophy when it comes to strength and conditioning football players?
Buddy Morris: We don't refer to ourselves as strength and conditioning coaches, and that's not being arrogant. We're coaches of physical preparation. What we do encompasses more than just conditioning and strength. There are a lot of variables we have to look at it with each individual athlete and each individual group. In this country, I think if anything, we place too much emphasis on strength. I'm not downplaying the importance of strength, but I think we put too much emphasis on it and too much volume.
Our program looks very simple, and it's very simplistic-oriented. But don't mistake simple for being easy. It's a very demanding program.
So are you saying you don't lift a lot of weights?
BM: It depends on the position because of the way we run our program. What makes our program unique and a little different than anybody else across this country is, I'm responsible for all the offensive and defensive linemen, the tight ends and the linebackers who we deem need more strength. My assistant James [Smith] is responsible for the preparation of our skill guys. ...
We look at it as a long-term process, so we slow cook it based on position requirements. They're not all the same. I still don't understand why some people train their skill guys like they do their big guys. We don't do that.
This is your third stint with Pittsburgh. You must like it there, huh?
BM: I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 and was very fortunate to be hired by Jackie Sherrill and worked there from 1980 to 1990. I then went into private practice at a hospital physical therapy clinic until 1997. Part of the reason was my daughter was on a liver transplant list, so during the time period she was the sickest, I chose to step away from coaching.
I was fortunate to be asked back to Pittsburgh in '97. In 2001, I went to the Cleveland Browns with Butch Davis, but the NFL was not for long for me. I wound up at the University of Buffalo for six months, where I was very fortunate to meet my wife. Then I came back to Pittsburgh.
How much did you know Dave Wannstedt when he hired you back in 2006?
BM: I had met him once at the NFL combine. I introduced myself to him. And I guarantee he wouldn't remember it.
How fun has it been to coach some really great players during your time at Pitt?
BM: Over the years, I've had a chance to work with some great players, from Dan Marino to Mark Stepnoski to Bill Fralic, Curtis Martin. You could build a whole NFL list of who's who. But to be honest all strength coaches in the country can say that. I've been fortunate to work with great ones, and I've had the opportunity to work with ones who aren't so great and whom you have to help get better.
How much does weight-room performance translate into on-field performance?
BM: In my opinion, the most important criteria and the most overlooked is the ability to play the game. I've seen guys who are built like Tarzan but play like Jane. The best athlete is not going to put up the greatest numbers in the weight room. They're going to be kind of right in the middle, which is where we want all our guys to be, right in middle of everything. Because then we know we're developing the strength of entire human body and preparing them for the sporting demands.
How does the level of athlete you're working with now compare to earlier in your career in kind of the glory days of Pitt?
BM: We're definitely getting better and better. I was fortunate to be at Pitt in 1980 when we had two defensive ends in Hugh Green and Rickey Jackson. I think we have two right now in Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard who can be, depending how they work, every bit as good as those two guys were. We've got an unbelievable wide receiver in Jonathan Baldwin. You don't coach Jonathan Baldwin. That's God-given. So we're getting better and better athletes, and Dave and his staff have done a tremendous job recruiting those athletes. I think it's an exciting time to be at the University of Pittsburgh.
How much time do you spend talking with Coach Wannstedt and keeping him informed of what's going on in the weight room?
BM: I talk to him every day. What I love about Dave is he lets me run my program. He's 100 percent supportive, especially from the discipline aspect of the program and all the little things. I couldn't ask to work for a better guy.
Who are some of your workout warriors right now?
BM: We've got a linebacker named Dan Mason, who in my opinion just has to grow up a little bit. Myles Caragein. A kid who was a walk-on in Chas Alecxih. Our fullback Henry Hynoski -- my wife is president of his fan club. We've got a great core, a great group of hardworking, tough kids.
How close are you to former players and how much do they keep in touch?
BM: Every time they come into town, we've got eight million guys who wind up in the weight room. Coach Wannstedt will tell you that's the first place everybody wants to go. I'm kind of the link between the past and the future because I've been here for so long. To me, that's a tremendous honor.