On three separate occasions this offseason, Georgia State head football coach Bill Curry expressed his displeasure with several factors of the Panthers strength and conditioning program. Having known coach Curry for several years, it was evident in his comments and public concerns that changes were forthcoming.
Every college football team has a strength and conditioning coach who has various staff to assist in off season workouts, but Georgia State ramped theirs up a notch in June and turned to an experienced strength coach, Ben Pollard, who also gets an assistant athletic director job title. Before coming to Atlanta from Texas State, Pollard spent the majority of his career working with FBS powers, including the strength programs of Mississippi State (2007-09), Texas A&M (2004-07), Alabama (2001-04) and TCU (1998-01). From 1998 through 2009, he trained numerous future NFL players while working with football teams that played in seven bowl games and won four conference titles.
We had a chance to catch up with Coach Pollard after one of Georgia State's three daily offseason workout sessions and he gave us some great insight about his background, philosophy and what the Panthers have to improve on in 2011.
SB Nation Atlanta: First, welcome to Atlanta! You have an impressive resume with big time FBS programs. What attracted you to Georgia State?
Ben Pollard: I just kept thinking, "What are they doing over there?" I just saw that it was a great time to be a part of this. I felt like my program can help. I was actually living in Tuscaloosa at the time and my great friend is the strength and conditioning coach at South Alabama and I went to that game last year [A 34-20 Georgia State defeat]. I was out of coaching at the time and I saw that the team was not strong enough. I took the job with Coach [Dennis Franchione] at Texas State but I just didn't enjoy it. I didn't have a great feel in San Marcos and I didn't want to be 13 hours from my family. I actually called [Alabama athletic director] Mal Moore and then reached out to Bill Curry. I spent an hour around the facility and saw what was being built here and accepted the job. It's a great time to be a Panther.
SB Nation Atlanta: Across the country, S&C coaches have different philosophies in regards to overall size vs. agility, lifting heavy during the season vs. just maintaining. What's your philosophy for the program?
BP: I want to run three-week cycles on different muscle groups focusing on speed, power and explosion. We roll into different stimulus to avoid boredom. I want guys to squat 600 pounds, bench 400 pounds, avoid injuries. I pride myself on teaching technique and improving balance. I want to run a combine post practice to bring some competition within the team and also train them for a combine workout with the 40, bench press and drills. I want to see you practice then I can see how I can train you. We definitely don't want to overtrain during the week. That can lose you ballgames.
SB Nation Atlanta: What was your immediate reactions from the football summer workouts?
BP: We just aren't strong enough. Stronger is better. I've seen many football players who are stronger. I've never seen a great player who isn't strong. One of my pupils was LaDainian Tomlinson. He was a great player and worked everyday to be so strong.
SB Nation Atlanta: You've worked for Sylvester Croom, Dennis Franchione and now Bill Curry. Those are some big names. Are their similarities between those three coaches?
BP: Yes and no. I'm thankful for the way things happened. I had no plans to leave Tuscaloosa and go to Texas A&M. I'm a Red Raider and my wife is a Longhorn. I knew about College Station and felt I would never really be embraced there. I talked to coach [Mal] Moore about wanting to stay at Alabama. I actually was offered the job by Chan Gailey to be the conditioning coach at Georgia Tech. Coach Curry and coach Gailey are more alike than coach Fran in the way they approach things. I was hired by Sylvester Croom who is one of the finest men in the game. I actually commuted to Mississippi State. Sometimes working for one person can help you, sometimes it can hurt you.
SB Nation Atlanta: How do you feel the habits in the weight room are for this team right now? What are your immediate thoughts on improvement?
BP: We have a group of core guys and I think everyone else is buying in. Each day we are getting better. If the guys made it through all five days this week, they got pretty beat up. That's my plan: to get after them hard for three weeks and then back off a little.
SB Nation Atlanta: Were you able to see a mentality change from the first day of summer conditioning and when they were completed?
BP: Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. I was thrilled this past Tuesday as the entire group was lifting and we were able to transition quickly. We were able to maximize our workout and you see more guys buying into the program. Doing more speed work getting guys ready for practice, not just the conditioning tests.
Special thanks to Georgia State football assistant strength coach Ben Pollard for joining us!