My Top Coaching Influences

Jun 22, 2022

A blog reader posted this question recently and got me thinking. Who were my top coaching influences? I put a little thought in and came up with this list. Initially this was going to be a Top Ten but the more I thought the more the list expanded. Apologies to those I left out. I have been very lucky to have met so many great coaches.

Arthur Boyle. My dad was a high school phys ed teacher who also coached football and basketball (a sport he didn't really play beyond high school). He went on to be a high school principal. Truth is I never saw him coach when I was old enough to "get it" but I learned a lot. I know he won what amounted to State titles in the 1960's in basketball even though he was a college football player (it was called the Tech Tourney then). My father showed me that coaches could coach any sport. It didn't matter what sport they coached or what sport they played. I think this helped when I began to coach hockey players at BU. I also learned that some of my father's most loyal fans were former managers who kept score books and ran errands. My dad innately knew how to treat everyone with respect. Lastly, I learned racial tolerance. My father coached lots of young African American kids in the sixties and loved it. I didn't even know what prejudice was until I was much older. My dad was a Vince Lombardi era guy who often echoed the old adage "it's not whether you win or lose but, how you play the game". My dad believed that as do I.

Mike Woicek- Mike Woicek is an NFL legend. He has the most Super Bowl rings in NFL history, six, three with Dallas and three with New England, actually more than any player. In 1978 and 1979 he was the resident director in my dorm at Springfield College. Talk about lucky. For two years I sat in his room, listened to oldies, drank a few beers and worked my way through a box of Strength and Health and Ironman magazines. Mike introduced me to plyometrics, and the old Soviet Sport review, the predecessor of the Yessis Journals. Mike was my mentor during my early years at BU and was probably the single greatest influence on me as a strength coach. Mike was so far ahead of his time in the late seventies that it was comical. As a former track thrower his perspective on sports training was really progressive.

Bruce Buckbee- everyone who reads this will say "Who is Bruce Buckbee?" Again in the wide world of luck and serendipity Bruce came to Springfield College for Grad School at the same time as Mike Woicek and was my instructor for a course called Weight Training. Prior to Bruce's arrival Weight Training was a simple and boring class. Bruce however had just come from University of Hawaii where he trained with the legendary Bill Starr. How about using Bill Starr's Strong Shall Survive and being taught by a guy who had just been taught by Bill himself? We learned the Big Three ( squat, bench press, and power clean) from the book that coined the term) I was at Springfield College learning from a guy who had just finished training with a legend. At the same time I was chasing two other future legends around like Sam Leahey.

Rusty Jones- the third part of the Springfield connection is another NFL legend. Although Rusty does not have Mike's rings he has had more teams in SuperBowls than anyone except Mike. Rusty was a graduate assistant football coach at the time and a nutritional pioneer in the 80's. Rusty and Mike are actually the two longest tenured guys in the NFL. Wonder why the word lucky keeps coming up.

Jack Parker- my fourth influence is not a strength coach at all. Jack Parker is the winningest coach in NCAA history at a single institution with over 800 wins at Boston University. Yes, the same school. Coach Parker has been the head coach for 37 years. Next to my father I don't think there is anyone in the world I respect as much as Coach Parker. I have had the pleasure of being part of about 500 or 600 wins of his wins as well as two National Championships and have learned so much along the way. I learned about coaching, I learned about fairness, and I learned about grace under pressure. I have been able to be in a locker room after National Championships wins, National Championships losses, and devastating player injuries. You learn valuable lessons in all these situations.

Vern Gambetta and Don Chu- Vern and Don fit together in my mind because they were the guys I wanted to be when I first attended NSCA conferences in the 1980's. Both men came from track backgrounds and were instrumental in changing the field of strength and conditioning. I can remember watching them lecture and thinking to myself "imagine if I could ever captivate a room the way they did". I read everything they wrote and bought every VHS tape they made. I idolized them. I wanted to be them. I hope today when I speak I do them justice.

Gary Gray- I don't know if anyone had as significant an impact on my mind as Gary in the last twenty years. Although I don't agree with everything Gary says or does, there is no mistaking the effect he had. In the early 1990's Vern Gambetta told me I had to go to a Chain Reaction conference. I went to Phoenix and came away a changed man. I entered the room a meathead powerlifter and left a functional training guy. When Gary began to explain the concepts of function my entire world changed. The coolest thing is that it all made sense. These days I think the concept has gone to far but, that doesn't change the things I learned at that first Chain Reaction seminar.

Johnnie Parker- I met Johnnie when he was the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the New England Patriots. Johnnie was the consummate coach and the consummate professional. When I lecture I see myself emulating Don Chu and Vern Gambetta. When I see myself as a coach, I see a guy that wanted to be Johnnie Parker. Johnnie was confident yet humble. He believed in the basics but was always learning and progressing. The most important thing to Johnnie was coaching. He coached from morning to night and pretty much stayed out of the limelight. Being in Massachusetts I took advantage of his generosity and visited him in Foxboro. With Johnnie it was just about getting players better and keeping players healthy. Everywhere Johnnie Parker coached teams went to SuperBowls and guys became Johnnie's guys. There is no better testament to your ability than the loyalty of your players.

Al Vermeil -- Al might be my favorite person in the field. I always say I want to be Al when I grow up. I don't know anyone in our field who is more enthusiastic about learning than Al. He is the kid in the candy store. I brought Al in to do a seminar for my coaches a few years ago. The night before the seminar I brought him to the facility to observe our coaches and athletes. After about thirty minutes I expected Al to be ready to leave. Instead, he was ready to coach. He looked at me and said "can I coach some kids?". I was dumbfounded. I had to drag him to dinner two hours later. Al Vermeil, he of 9 world championship rings in two different sports, stayed on the platforms and coached like a GA. Kids had no idea who this enthusiastic old guy was, but I did. I'll never forget that night. It made a lasting impression on me and again showed me who I might be when I grew up. I am fortunate to be able to call Al a good friend and to be able to spend time with him every year at the Perform Better Summits. I often laugh in his lectures because the smartest people at the seminar never miss a chance to hear Al.

Mike Clark- Mike was the first of the Whiz Kid PT's . The first time I heard him speak I thought "wow, this kid is smart". Mike was like a physical therapy encyclopedia. I personally think he was the guy who fast forwarded many of us into the marriage of rehab and training. Gary Gray was a visionary thinker. Mike was the practical application guy. Mike took physical therapy and training and made them one science in a way no one else ever had.

Gray Cook -- the original son of a preacher man, Gray has the ability and charisma to reach any audience. Gray may have influenced the way I program more than any one person over the past ten years. Mike Woicek and the others above built my foundation but Gray was a guy who changed much of the house. Another of these Whiz Kid Pt's, Gray has single handedly changed coaches in every professional sport. Because of Gray the Functional Movement Screen is now the gold standard screening tool in our industry.

Mark Verstegen- Mark was one of the first Whiz Kid strength coaches. To be honest when I first read about him in Outside Magazine I was sure I wasn't going to like him. Crew cut, snarling ex-linebacker? Not my type. Boy was I wrong. The guy could coach and was a great judge of character. I met some great guys through Mark who are also good friends today. I went to IPI to observe and came away with a friend for life. Both of our dad's were high school principals and we grew up with the same values. Although he was 10 years younger, I felt like I had met my little brother in the world of strength and conditioning.

Alwyn Cosgrove- Alwyn was a great influence because he called me out at a time in my career when I needed it. To make a long story short, Alwyn reached out to me to connect on a few occasions and I was "too busy" to respond. Alwyn's response was to tell Ryan Lee that I was a bit of an ass. When Ryan communicated that to me I simply said "oops". Alwyn was right. I had been a bit of a jerk. Alwyn taught me a valuable lesson and I thank him for it. Alwyn also taught me another much more valuable lesson. He taught me that life is a gift and should be lived every day. As a two-time cancer survivor Alwyn inspires me to live better every day.

Ryan Lee- Many who read this will say Ryan Lee? However I think many of us in fitness and strength and conditioning owe a great deal to Ryan Lee. Ryan revolutionized our field. Ryan empowered us as coaches to realize it was Ok to make money. It was OK to try to develop a business. I can remember Ryan looking at me and saying "Is your stuff good? Then why are you ashamed to sell it?" Like many things in many professions people took Ryan's advice the wrong way and took Ryan's advice in the wrong direction, However, we have to realize not to shoot the messenger.

Chris Poirier- Chris Poirier is the man behind Perform Better. Chris saw the future and the future was education for trainers, coaches and therapists. Chris is probably the best businessman I know. Not because he knows how to make money but because he understands people. Bill Falk, the founder of MF Athletic, gave Chris a chance to develop a small offshoot of MF Athletic into a company that is now the leading education provider in our field. Chris's idea was simple. If you give someone quality education you create customers. A simple and brilliant idea. He would say to the speakers "Don't sell, teach". If you educate them they'll naturally become customers. It was a brilliant business idea that made industry names out of many of us. Without the Perform Better tour, I'm not sure where we would be.

I know when I publish this I will remember someone I left out. However the most important thing for me is to say thank-you to all the people who influenced me whether mentioned or left out. Without you I would not be the person I am today.

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