I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the LAJ series in getting to know Texas Tech strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt (all linked below). I know that you might not like someone like me, who’s in charge of what you read and what you see on Staking The Plains, has bought so much into what Whitt is doing. I tend to think that you like for me to remain a bit impartial, that’s part of the appeal I think, not too high and not too low.
But I just can’t help myself when reading about what Whitt is doing to transform the program.
And the most interesting thing about this for me is how I’ve learned how important that lead strength and conditioning (herein “S&C”) coach actually is in leading the program. You could have asked me 5 years ago and I think I would have given you some answer about how important these guys are, but the reality is that the S&C staff is probably only second to the head coach in terms of importance. The time and effort that is expended by a S&C staff on these players is second to none and I think, without a doubt, that these S&C coaches spend more time with these players than the coaches, who are off recruiting or watching film or devising ways to beat opposing teams.
But these S&C guys are grinding and living with the players on a day to day basis. These S&C coaches are the guys that create the accountability because they’re going to know first and foremost who is missing class, who isn’t giving full effort, who isn’t in the weight room doing their work.
The series that Don Williams has done with Whitt has been really illuminating for me, just as an observer of how these structures really work in reality (I think so much of what we do as fans is speculate about things, but I think we’ve got some really nice insight here).
Things that Whitt has done, along with Kingsbury:
- Kingsbury recognized that his original S&C coach, Chad Dennis, maybe didn’t have the personality that comes with being a lead S&C coach at a major institution. I can’t imagine where the program would be if Whitt had been the initial hire, but at the very least, Kingsbury acknowledged that change was necessary and found someone like Whitt who I think pretty well gets it.
- Whitt established accountability within the team by fostering a system where the team votes in leaders and the leaders then determine the punishments for failure to adhere to those rules. Those rules include both on-the-field and off-the-field infractions.
- Whitt and the S&C coaches picked eight players that make up the team leaders. The S&C coaches and the eight players merely enforce what the players have established in terms of the rules and regulations.
- Whitt has established accountability through t-shirts. Sounds a bit crazy to consider, but by taking away the double-t logo, Whitt established a hierarchy of t-shirts and you have to earn you way up with each successive shirt. The brown shirts are at the bottom, with grey, white, black and then red.
- You want to know how a player is being accountable to his team? Just look at the color of a shirt. That can be one heck of a powerful message to your teammates.
- In LAJ’s Don Williams’ latest installment, Whitt discussed how he DOES NOT treat every player the same and that’s a great thing. Whitt correctly points out that not every player comes from the same background and as Whitt says, some players need some extra molding:
“There’s certain players that you have to understand their background before you can be just cut-and-dried with them. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, this is this kid’s third strike. He’s out.’ This kid might come from a background we don’t quite understand, and so there’s got to be some give and take and firmness.
“Everybody wants to have a program where everybody gets treated exactly the same, but sometimes you have to stretch some boundaries a little bit. We’re not going to win a national championship with a bunch of choir boys. My job is to be a guidance counselor. I have to be a mentor. I have to teach. I have to coach and I have to be consistent and help mold young men, and sometimes some of these kids need extra molding.
- Whitt goes on to say that what Kingsbury really wanted was discipline and structure. That is the least surprising thing ever. Kingsbury is exactly that, a guy that has terrific discipline and structure to his life. Given Whitt’s military background makes even more sense given what Kingsbury wanted.
- Reading about kids that have asthma and sickle-cell is pretty fascinating and this is the one thing that would absolutely frighten me as a S&C coach. It’s pretty fascinating what they go through to make sure that they look out for these kids that they’ve identified.
- More than anything, it sounds as if Whitt tries to not only give these kids some structure, guidance and accountability, but also some appreciation for what they have, whether it be as a scholarship player or a walk-on:
“So I try to make these kids realize how blessed they are to be at Texas Tech and respect your opportunity. So many guys I enlisted in the Army with didn’t have degrees, and the education was part of that incentive to enlist and go in harm’s way and use the GI Bill later on. Well, these guys are getting that up front. You understand what I mean? And if they’re a walk-on, they have the opportunity to get that scholarship. It taught me to really appreciate the country you live in and the resources and opportunity you have.”