Today in our third installment of our Kansas football strength and conditioning series we interviewed former coach Fred Roll. He served as the director of strength and conditioning at Kansas from 1989 to 2001.
What were some of the changes you made to the program when you took over in 1989?
We took the approach that if we were going to have someone for four or five years, then we are going to set up a four or five year plan than an eight week plan. Now if you take someone and put them on an eight week period, they might get some superior gains compared to doing it my way, but three years down the road doing it the other way you plateau. We try to build a tremendous fitness base and add on to that every year. We would get some really good kids coming in but they couldn't keep up with our seniors. We told them coming into the program to not try to keep up with the seniors. They can't do as much and we won't ask them to do as much.
We would also keep pictures of them the entire time they were there. Scouts would like this so they could see how their bodies changed.
I had a lot of good mentors. I had a lot of experience in plyometrics. I didn't think it was a panacea but it was something that would help us. The way we approached the whole thing was different than the way everybody else had been doing it. From the standpoint that we would do complexes before we worked out. We had designated days like the first day of the week was an acceleration day. Most people call it speed but I have never called it speed because to me speed is not important in football it's acceleration. Our second day was a power day - the ability to jump and hit. The third day was a recovery day. The fourth day was a strength and change of direction day.
We basically asked ourselves what are the most important components in football? One of my mentors was a Romanian national coach who coached a lot of Olympians and his whole philosophy is you work on acceleration early in the week when you aren't tired. The least tiring thing is working on acceleration. The next least tiring thing is working on power and the most tiring thing is working on your endurance, strength, and change of direction. In order to have a good week we would emphasize the three components. One of those days was a light day built to recover in the middle of the week. We tried to do some modeling which means we tried to make our weeks the same as a week in football season. The first day is not heavy, then you have heavy practice days then you taper for the game. We tried to model that in our workouts.
Besides space, what were some of the problems with the old Shaffer Holland weight room?
We had several floods. Before they did a lot of the stuff behind Anschutz they didn't have proper drainage. They added that parking lot so everytime it rained those parking lots would overflow and the water would come in on us. We had to vacuum that room out probably a half dozen times. It ruined a lot of our equipment and our platforms.
Was Mason involved a lot with the strength and conditioning program?
Coach Mason was hands off. He was easy to work for as long as we kept getting better.
He just wanted me to make sure I got on their ass and got them stronger. At the beginning of summer we made it a point to have lunch and talk about what we were going to do for the summer. I knew I had his confidence and worked to maintain his confidence. He would get feedback from the pro scouts and they would tell him that we were running pretty well and we had great shuttle tests and all of that. It was good reinforcement.
It seemed like you were one of the first strength coaches to really utilize computers and technology in the early '90's. How did you use these resources to your advantage?
I did a data sheet for all the different positions and did a bell shaped curve and showed them the norms for all the different positions. So they would know what an offensive lineman should be power cleaning at a professional level and what should they squat. It was based on ten years of information that I had so we fed into a computer and spit the information out. We came up with norms with what levels people should be performing at. One thing that was good with coach Mason was every year I would sit down and talk with the players about what areas they need to improve in and meet with the position coaches and show where the players where at.
Who were some of the best athletes you coached?
Don Davis who was drafted by the Saints and played for the Patriots. I think his ten yard dash time at the Combine is still the fastest for a linebacker. We had a kid named Dorian Brew who was drafted by the Ravens and he had a 42 inch vertical. We had a lot of linemen who had outstanding verticals who could jump, 34, 35, 36 inches. Moran Norris bench pressed something like 540 pounds or some ridiculous number like that. We had a couple of kids squat over 600 pounds and one who squatted 700 pounds but to me once you get to a certain level and we start looking at things like your ten yard dash and your shuttle test. It's nice to have those numbers but numbers don't win games. Although if you improve on your numbers it gives you a better chance to win those games.
What players did you enjoy working with the most?
There were so many guys that I would be cheating one person if I mentioned. I will say Gilbert Brown and he was out of the league for a year. I came home on Thanksgiving in '97 or '98 and he was sitting on my back doorsteps. He told me that he needed to lose some weight and that he was moving in with me. He did and got four more years in the NFL.
What was your proudest moment as a strength coach?
What I am most proud of is being selected Big 8 strength coach of the year in '95 when we went 10-2. What was ironic about that was that wasn't the best job that I ever did. You can do a great job with a team and go 4-7 and nobody knows it. I felt like I could've done a better job in '95 but we still won 10 games.
What season did you feel you did your best as a coach?
1994 without question. We had 13 kids that were in a NFL camp after that year. That was a really good group of kids. They would come in the weight room and everybody had a workout sheet with their weights and what they were supposed to do that day. I had a board and I would always tell the group what we were trying to accomplish for the day. Those guys would say, 'Get out of the way and we are going to go do this.' Rod Jones and Chris Banks would come in at seven in the morning and ask what they were going to do. The '95 was a good group but I did a better job with the '94 group. In '94 we were like 5-6 or 4-7 or something. We had a fitness test at the end of the summer and I felt like nobody failed the test. Everybody improved on all their lifts.
How else did you motivate the players?
I had a reward system. If you improved on several test you got a t-shirt. If you improved 6 of 9 areas you got a warm-up. The kids wore it as a badge of pride. Those guys wore those everywhere they went. We also had a board that had a picture of which player who held a record by position group in different categories and players took pride in getting on that board.
What was the conditioning test for the end of the summer?
You had to run 16 110's. They had 45 seconds of rest between each one of them. The skill guys had to do it in 14 seconds, which is pretty fast for a 110. The linebackers were 16 and the linemen were 18. I never changed that.
How many people would generally pass the end of the season conditioning test?
We had years where everybody passed. With Coach Mason if you didn't pass you had to wake up at 7 a.m. and run it until you passed and you couldn't meet with the press and things like that. One of my favorite stories is coach Mason recruited guys like Dana Stubblefield and Gilbert Brown and they were big time linemen. The conversation he had with me is that you have got to develop these guys and I took that to heart. The only guy who hated to run was Gilbert. Whenever we did the defensive line running test I was always in the middle of the field calling the times out and I would yell out how much time they had so they could pace themselves. With the defensive linemen, Mason would take the watch and would yell out 16 seconds….(long pause)… 17 seconds…(long pause)… and you made it! It would've been like 24 seconds but he wanted Gilbert to pass the test. He wanted to get that out of the way and let him start practicing football.
How did the program evolve during your time at Kansas?
I was able to implement things in the way that I thought they should be done. I was involved in the professional associates and had professional contacts. Whenever I wanted to learn something I would find the best possible person I knew and either bring them in or take my staff to them so we were able to put together our own philosophy. We didn't just say we are going to do what they are doing at Texas A&M or at Missouri. We just took the pieces that we thought worked best and found a way to put them all together and put them in a progression. I had two guys who played for me and one is a strength coach for the Broncos. I got guys who are strength coaches all over the place and I get phone calls and I am doing this and this so what should I be doing. We got our own little club and we do things the same way and add on to it. Occasionally we will get together and talk about what we are doing.
Terry Allen was hired as the new head football coach after the '96 season. Allen and Roll didn't share the same vision for how to run the offseason program. Roll didn't work with the football team during the '97 season. Roll returned to training the football team before the '98 season.
How was the team different when you came back in '98?
There wasn't any discipline in the weight room and there wasn't any discipline on the football team. I can't operate like that. Coach Allen came to the realization that we needed more discipline and he hired some guys on his staff and gave me a little more support. He instituted a little more discipline and effort in the weight room. When I came back the offensive lineman were fat, weak , and out of shape. It was a tough situation but we got a little bit of that back.
Did it ever get back to the level it was under Mason?
No. It was always a little different.
What was the difference discipline wise between Glenn Mason and Terry Allen in getting the players to commit to the offseason workouts?
Coach Mason was a disciplinarian and I didn't have to worry about people being there. With Terry Allen I had to be a bounty hunter.
When Terry was here the biggest thing that I held over their heads was my relationship with the pro scouts and they all thought they were going to the NFL. I had a reputation that if you didn't work hard that I would actually tell the scouts that you didn't work hard. The scouts would tell the guys that their strength coach didn't think they worked hard so the team wasn't going to draft them.
If they didn't show up for Coach Mason they would be punished. I could do the punishment if I wanted or he could do the punishment so there was a lot more consistency.
Did you ever get in touch with the Kansas S&C program the last two years under John Williams?
No because it drives me crazy. It's just not the way I do it. I am not trying to brag but I have a lot of people come to me and say that a lot of the things we were doing 15 years ago they are starting to do that now. Right now it's a lot about money and I never did it because of the money. I never made a lot of money. These guys now make twice as much as I did. You do take a certain satisfaction out of taking kids and putting them into the NFL or the NBA. Brady Morningstar trained under me from eighth grade until he graduated. Tyrell Reed also worked with me when he was in high school. A lot of these guys are doing things in the weight room and they aren't understanding why they are doing certain things. I heard something that said you could take a terrible program and work hard and get better, and you can take a great program and not do anything and you won't get better. If a coach has a good personality and gets guys to train hard then they will get better. What I saw when Turner Gill was here was a very poorly conditioned team. One day I went over there with a local kid because his father wasn't here and his dad asked me to go over there with him. I watched them and quite honestly it frightened to watch them lift and some of the things they were doing. It was terrible. You aren't training these guys to be weight lifters but you got to use weights to make them better so you might as well teach them good technique while you were doing it. For me, I am still tinkering with things that I am doing and enjoy working with high school athletes. I would rather be at that level but when I lost my job I was 55 years old and nobody is going to hire a 55-year-old strength coach.
What do you think was the biggest problem at Kansas the last two years?
To me you set the tone for what spring ball is going to be like and what the season is going to be like. Are you going to be able to push each other through things that are difficult? I just don't think it ever got difficult enough for them to do that. The biggest thing that I could do as a strength coach was get everybody on the same page in the summertime. You got to find out who is going to quit and who isn't going to quit. I still work with Lawrence High School in the summer time. The biggest reason I am over there is coach Dirk Wedd . I want to work with somebody who is going to get after their ass. I get after them and I tell the coaches who I think is a quitter and who is not going to quit. If they are going to quit in the summer program then they are going to quit in the game. You don't have to be smart to figure that out.