Florida coach Urban Meyer isn’t interested in starting a weight-lifting club.
His aim is winning football games, and he doesn’t mind telling you that one of the central figures in the Gators’ success the past few years has been head strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.
Meyer points to how good the Gators have been in the fourth quarter as telltale proof that Marotti is getting it done in his strength and conditioning program.
Over the past two seasons, Florida has outscored its opponents 228-106 in the fourth quarter, while limiting them to an average of 3.78 points in the final stanza.
The only time the Gators have lost the fourth quarter over the past two seasons when the game was close was the SEC championship game loss to Alabama last season. Over the past two seasons, Florida has recorded 12 shutouts in the fourth quarter.
Those are the numbers Meyer is interested in when he starts evaluating his strength coach, and it’s the reason he calls Marotti the best strength coach in America.
We caught up with Marotti recently for a Q&A:
What’s the cornerstone of your strength and conditioning program at Florida?
Mickey Marotti: We talk every day about effort and toughness in terms of training and also attitude. It’s not a specific lift or run or some sort of exercise. To me, it’s more a mindset, more a mental approach to the daily grind of training for the football season.
Who are some of the players who’ve really excelled this year in the strength program?
MM: Number one is obvious. I think everybody saw it a couple of weeks ago -- Jeff Demps. Running a 9.96 in the 100 meters (at the NCAA track championships) and doing what he does on the football field and doing what he did in the indoor track season, he couldn’t have done that if he didn’t keep his body in shape and mind in shape. This isn’t a normal track athlete. I don’t want to categorize anybody, but this guy is different now. You tell him to go 100 percent, and that’s the way he’s going to go. He’s definitely been a workout warrior. There’s no way he would have been able to run that 9.96 without being one.
How about some of the players on this team who maybe haven’t been in the spotlight that are going to need to be this coming season? Who are some of those guys who’ve had big offseasons?
MM: One young player who’s really done a nice job is Jordan Reed, who’s going to play a couple of different positions and can hopefully step into Aaron Hernandez’s role as that pass-catching tight end. He’s really matured from when he first got here. Another guy is Jaye Howard on the defensive line. He’ll be a redshirt junior and has really changed the way he does things. We’ll find out about him. The other guy is Deonte Thompson at wide receiver. He has a ton of ability, but his work ethic and his demeanor and his leadership have really changed. Sometimes it takes guys longer to mature. I can’t wait to see him. I hope he has a great year, because he has really worked his butt off.
From your perspective, how much better and how much stronger has John Brantley gotten since the day he walked onto campus?
MM: It’s night and day. He’s what we call a grown-ass man right now physically and mentally. A lot of it is maturing, and I think a lot of it has to do with being around Tim [Tebow]. But Johnny has worked really hard and grown up.
How often are you fooled? When a kid is having a great offseason in the strength and conditioning program, does it typically translate to success on the field?
MM: You want to say yes, and that’s what we strive for. But it’s just one chapter in the book. We talk about a new book in January and then keep going through the chapters. If you take care of your business in the offseason and summer, it usually sets you up nicely for the next chapter, which is preseason camp.
How much one-on-one interaction do you have with the players?
MM: Two or three times a year, I sit down with every guy, and we go over specific goals, both objectives and individual goals like body weight, how much body fat they need to have, where they need to be in their lifts and their runs and their agilities. We make them write things down and make a big deal of that stuff. Each day, we’re asking them if they accomplished their goals of what they wanted to do back in April when we talked about it. We’ve got a saying around here: You either get better or you get worse.
Where has the whole strength and conditioning approach changed the most over the years?
MM: It’s kind of changed in how much the strength coach is involved in the total football program. With the decision-making of the football program, you’re so much more involved in everything now. You’re asked to do more than you did 20 years ago when I first started. Back then, you were the strength coach and in charge of that program, and that was it. They came in, went on and then the coaches kind of did their business. But I think as this thing has evolved over time, key components of your football program have been developed in the offseason. Coaches started to recognize that and gave strength coaches around the country more responsibility of getting to know their players, and not only helping with the physical attributes, but also helping with the mental part of it and just dealing with every-day life stuff because you’re around them all the time.
You guys are around the players a lot more than the position coaches, aren’t you?
MM: Oh yeah, way more, especially here in about another week when all those guys go on vacation to Bermuda and Italy and the strength coaches are stuck here in Gainesville (laughing).
How far back do you and Meyer go?
MM: We were graduate assistants together at Ohio State (in 1987) when I first met him. But when I was working at Cincinnati, his sister was working there in one of the colleges and he came to visit her when he was still at Colorado State. He stopped in the weight room and watched a workout for like three hours. I didn’t even stop to see who it was. I remember thinking that he looked familiar, but I was too busy to walk over. He just stood there in the room and stayed the whole time. We talked after we got done, and when the Notre Dame thing came up (in 1998), he had a lot to do with getting me up there. That’s kind of how it all evolved.
What goes through your mind when you hear Meyer laud you, your staff and the whole strength program for the Gators’ success in the fourth quarter?
MM: I don’t think it’s just what we do in the weight room. I think it’s more about the whole coaching staff, from the athletic trainers, to the defensive coordinator and his staff, to the offensive coordinator and all his coaches. We are all so much on the same page, and I think that’s why we’ve been successful here. Everybody buys in, and everybody sells the same thing to our players.