- Sean Adams, Contributor, HornsNation
- 0 Shares
There is a line from the movie "Miracle" in which former U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, tells his team during their most grueling workouts, "The legs feed the wolf."
In that way, hockey and football are alike. The legs feed the wolf.
In charge of those legs, the initial mentality behind so many college football dreams, and everything else for that matter, is the strength and conditioning coach.
At Texas, his name is Bennie Wylie and he is as much style as substance, and that might be slighting his substance.
As summer workouts are under way, the importance of the strength and conditioning coach is stronger than it ever has been. The strength coaching staff is available to spend time with the athletes all year, when position coaches and the head coach cannot. Sometimes that staff has a better read on the players, especially the young players, than their position coaches.
"I'm every position coach's No. 1 assistant," Wylie said. "That's how I view myself. Every single guy is different. I may have one running back that needs to be patted on the back and one RB that needs to be rubbed on the back. I may have another that needs to be pushed in the back."
If a coach is truly first a teacher, then it is Wylie that understands the student-athlete and relays that information to the coaching staff. One of Wylie's biggest jobs is to help the player to understand the big picture and understand their role within that picture.
"I have to let them know this isn't just about you," the coach said. "There are people that work at a hotel that if we don't play well, they don't feed their families. We live in the age of iPhones and iPads; you have to show them how big things are. Every set, every rep, every sprint, every morning workout, every 4 p.m. workout -- there are a lot of people riding on them doing well."
While it might seem unfair or unusual to transfer the pressure of commitment, of winning and losing, to the athlete, this is where Wylie sees the big picture, especially when it comes to his role in the football program.
"We are in the business of young men, of raising young men. Not just on the football field, but in life," Wylie said. "When you watch a guy explode and have a great play, we as a staff know how much work went into that one football play."
Wylie's role is to be an agent of change. Yes, he discovers the athlete's ability to get better by spending time with the players, but finding ways to motivate is his true calling.
"That's my gift from God. He gave me discernment," Wylie said. "I have to know when to push, when not to push, when to tell this guy to go push his teammate, when to tell everybody to push this one guy and when to tell this one guy to push everybody. That comes with experience and time."
These decisions and the intimate relationship with all of the athletes is about making them accountable and meeting a high standard.
"It's not ever about us. I can tell a student-athlete to do this, jump here, run here or do that but unless they make the conscious choice to do it, nothing matters. It is all about their decision to be great. Good is not good enough here."
Once you figure out what a player wants, then figure out what makes them tick and what drives them, the final piece to that equation is how much do you drive? Because sports at some time or another are about performing under duress. An athlete routinely has to compete when sore, in pain, and when the body is fatigued.
Wylie said that's when he really starts reaching his players.
"You have to get them to that exhausted point," he said. "That mental breakdown point where they don't want to do anymore and they can't do anymore, that's when I say, 'Good, now we can start training.'"
Steven Sheffield played quarterback at Texas Tech when Wylie was the strength and conditioning coach and can attest to the intensity of Wylie's workouts.
"He was big on Michael Jordan so we would do sets of 23," Sheffield said. "We would do 23 110-yard sprints. He always told us that nobody in the country was going to work harder than us. We would get through the workout sometimes and look back and wonder how we got through that workout."
Wylie is not preaching a way of life; he is living it with every player. Wylie routinely participates in the daily workouts with the different player groups. And the players know it.
"You really couldn't say anything about the workout," Sheffield said. "How do you complain when you know that he is going to do it three times?
"When you do get tired and you do get worn out, you just keep going. You're not going to quit on your team because everything is competition. You learn to compete and fight when you are tired."
Wylie is all about the big picture. Education, sports, life, family and community -- each is an integral part of each player. And Wylie wants players to remember his dedication to those things long after they have left Texas.
"I want them to say he loved his family, he had passion and that he cared about me as an individual," Wylie said. "I want every single guy from 1 to 120, scholarship to non-scholarship, to know he loved his family and cared about me as an individual."
Wylie is a important piece of the future success of Texas. He fosters those football dreams and his passion, belief and ultimately the belief he passes on to the players at Texas will pay dividends both on and off the field.
And we just thought they were lifting weights.
Bennie Wylie is Texas' strength and conditioning coach, but so much of what he does breeds intangibles and passion with his players.