Most college football coaches aren't shy about praising their strength and conditioning coaches, but Ohio State's Urban Meyer took things to the next level Jan. 15. Meyer introduced his new staff at halftime of Ohio State's basketball game against Indiana. While co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell got the biggest ovation and new offensive coordinator Tom Herman also received a big cheer, Meyer didn't describe either as "the most important hire I made on this coaching staff."
He instead saved that designation for Mickey Marotti, who Ohio State named as its new assistant athletic director for sports performance. Marotti comes to Ohio State from Florida, where he worked with Meyer during Meyer's tenure as Gators' coach. The two men are working together for the fourth time (Florida, Notre Dame and previously at Ohio State), and Marotti and his staff are implementing their program right now as Ohio State prepares for spring practice.
ESPN.com caught up with Marotti on Wednesday. Here are his thoughts:
What was your initial message to the players as you arrived at Ohio State?
Mickey Marotti: I wanted to let them know what to expect from us, from our staff. Our offseason program is going to be based on accountability and effort and attitude and performance and being competitive. That's what our deal was all about.
How would you describe your philosophy toward strength and conditioning?
MM: My philosophy is to train them so they can maximize their genetic potential and train them to be ready to play the game of football. The methods that we use are a mix of power lifting, Olympic lifting, old-school strength training, high-intensity training, from metabolic alternative methods training to strongman stuff. All the different modes of training. We've made a huge focus and emphasis on acceleration and speed. Right now is our biggest acceleration cycle.
Focusing on speed and acceleration, is that different from what you've done in the past?
MM: It's similar to what we've done, very similar to the program we had at Florida, very similar to the program we had at Notre Dame. Just trying to make it a little bit more competitive, put the kids in competitive situations.
How do you motivate players?
MM: Well, my staff and our strength coaches, we motivate them with our energy and enthusiasm and our passion. Our athletes see that, and I think it motivates them. By some of the charts and record-keeping that we have, because we chart everything from a 'loaf' to a 'win' to a 'good lift.' Everything's charted where everybody can see. We push the accountability aspect, and here's the deal and if you're not doing well, why aren't you doing well? All those things motivate you. Putting them in competitive situations motivates them as well.
I read you have some lavender shirts for guys not performing as well?
MM: We like to let everybody know who isn't working as hard as they need to work. And it works. Because the next time, they won't have it on.
Has it been a big adjustment for the guys getting used to you and your staff?
MM: Any time you have new coaches, from the head coach to the strength coach to anybody who's new, there's an adjustment. There's a time where you've got to get to know each other. But they've done a great job. They've had a great attitude, been very coachable, and they've been willing. That's all you can ask for, just keep doing what you're doing and grinding away.
Urban introduced you as the most important hire on his staff. What was that like?
MM: I'm not sure if he's never done that with me before. It's flattering. It's great for my profession, for all my peers and all the people out there. I know coach Meyer very well. I know what our goal is on a daily basis, so I'm flattered and honored. I'm going to do everything I can to uphold that.
What are some of the things coach Meyer looks for out of the strength and conditioning program?
MM: Guys that go hard. We look for effort. That's the single most important intangible. And it doesn't matter what you're doing because we do so many different things. It's effort. It's daily effort. How much effort you give in a set, how much effort you give in a drill, how much effort you give in a run, how much effort you give in a week, how much effort you give in two weeks, how much effort you're giving to your body. It's all effort because it's not a talent issue. We tell players, 'It has nothing to do with talent, it has nothing to do with genetics, it has nothing to do with how many stars you have next to your name, whether you're a five-star or a four-star or a three-star, all of that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're a scholarship player, a walk-on player, a kicker, a starting linebacker.' It's all about effort.
And how do you assess that?
MM: We assess it from progress, from what they've done in the last workout or the last time we documented things. We do competitions in the weight room every day, so it's game day in February. We chart who wins and who loses a race, who wins and loses a drill, and you can just see it.
You have some special workouts, too, like the Harley-Davidson workout?
MM: (laughs) Yeah, we haven't even done that one yet. I think it's a fun way to motivate the guys. They get a kick out of that stuff. I always try to reference something as part of your workout. Obviously you're doing it to become a better player. Obviously you're doing it to become a better team. But that's so far away, so you try to give them mini battles or mini goals. 'OK, we're going to do this workout. You're either going to win it or you'll lose it, you'll either conquer it or you won't.' Sometimes this stuff gets hard. You get to the end of February and you're on Week 6 or 7, it gets really hard mentally and you've got to grind through it. These are just creative ways to get them through it a little bit more when they're worn out and tired.
What's your approach toward nutrition, and have you made any changes there?
MM: Yeah, I would say that's the biggest change we've made. We've upgraded the training table. We hired a full-time nutritionist who works out of the weight room, she has her own office in there. We instituted mandatory training table four or five days a week. We instituted Breakfast Club, which is a conglomerate of players who need to lose weight, gain weight or lose body fat, and they meet every day, Monday through Friday, for breakfast with our nutritionist and a strength coach. We monitor body fat. We just did it again for the second time this offseason, and we'll do it a few more times. We upgraded our recovery station. We upgraded our fueling station, which is before practices and workouts. We made a huge emphasis: all of our coaches are at training table, all of our strength coaches are at training table.
You get what you emphasize in this world. If you emphasize it, hopefully that's what you get. If you don't make a big deal about it, the kids, they're 18, 19 years old, they're not going to make a big deal about it. So we've made a huge deal about eating right, healing their body and trying to do the best you can to maximize your body.
Some people say players from different leagues look different. From a physical standpoint, how are Ohio State players similar or different from the Florida players you worked with or the Notre Dame players?
MM: Maybe I live in a closed world, but I see 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-old young men trying to get better, working hard. From a strength standpoint, a lot of these players in this area, Midwest, Big Ten area maybe have a little different background from their high school programs. They may be [coming from] more advanced programs than some of the schools we've dealt with in the past. But it's all relative all over the country.
What are your biggest objectives with the guys as you work with them from now until spring ball?
MM: We wanted to see changes, and we had no idea what they did in the past. That's none of my business. We really took the program over Jan. 3, whatever the day it was, and we wanted to see unbelievable, relentless effort, and to understand the core value of the program. It's not just the weight program. The weight program is part of the football program, and we're going to make sure we're aligned with the message that the head coach talks about. Everything is based on effort, and we want to make sure we get relentless effort on a daily basis and grind through tough things and accept our culture. I think that's what we're getting.