March 10, 2011
Tennessee's first-year head football strength and conditioning coach, Ron McKeefery, took time Thursday to discuss his and the team's progress heading toward spring practice. McKeefery began his tenure with the Vols in January after serving as human performance coordinator for the U.S. Army Special Forces in Fort Campbell, Ky. Before that, McKeefery spent 11 seasons at South Florida as assistant athletics director for strength and conditioning and head strength and conditioning coach of the Bulls from 2000-10.
Here is a sampling of McKeefery's comments:
Were you surprised at how quickly the team bought in to your instruction given what they've been through?
"I was. These guys are resilient and that's a testament to the upperclassman, it's a testament to the recruiting class we just brought in and the type of person (Coach Dooley's) bringing into this program. So I was surprised by that. At the same time though, I know that the approach we're taking with the guys is the right approach. At the end of the day, they're going to understand that I'm going to care about them more as a person and that when they come in they're not doing something just to do it. They're coming in because everything we do has a specific purpose and enhances all the components of the program. Keep them on the field and keep them healthy -- that's one of the major goals.
"The performance factors are speed, strength, power, balance, coordination, kinesthetic awareness. And it's NCAA rules that we only have eight hours to do these things in that time. That's a task. So when we do something in there, if it is in the program, it's important. I don't know if the guys fully understood that when they came in, but they do now. I think that's leading to why they're buying in."
Your background is a little more diverse than most strength coaches. How does that impact what you do now?
"I've had some great teachers and been a part of some great programs. Obviously, coming from special operations, the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I've seen a wide range of being able to teach a player and that's what we have. When you have 105 different personalities, you have to be able to push all the right buttons. They're all a little bit different. By having a wide range of experience, it's prepared me for being able to reach these guys beyond just the weight room.
"And my job is beyond the weight room. It's making sure that they understand that when they go to eat Burger King at 9 at night that I'm on their shoulder telling them that's probably not a good choice. It's making sure that they understand that sleeping is the right thing to do and they have to make sure they handle themselves with a certain amount of respect, a certain level of accountability outside these walls. That stuff isn't just something you can turn on for the two to three or four hours that you're here in this facility. It's something you have to live. My experiences and being around unbelievable people and some unbelievable coaches has given me that template to be able to use here at the University of Tennessee."
How well did you know Coach Dooley?
"I did not know Coach Dooley well. I respected from afar, obviously through his father and then through his success he's had at every place. But the circles I've traveled and the circles he's traveled have bled over a little bit. I've respected the man and I've respected what he's been able to do, the way that he carries himself and surrounds himself with a staff that's phenomenal.
"As you could probably understand, I care about character and making sure I have an impact on these players' lives beyond the four or five years they're here. I tell them on recruiting visits my job is to make you better husbands, better fathers, better citizens. You do those things right there, football takes care of itself. We'll have successful football teams if we have great character guys. Coach is a phenomenal guy and I have really enjoyed my time getting to know him even better. I think we click on a lot of levels in terms of how detailed and how organized and how committed we are to making sure we get this program back and hang a banner in this facility."
Why did you want to get back into college athletics given the situation with the military?
"Working with special operations was a phenomenal group. As you all know, our men and women of the service, they are phenomenal people and the commitment level they have and the work that they do, none of us completely understand. So when they're back with you, they're not even really back and I was missing that interaction and being a part of a program and that day-to-day, just having fun with the guys. At the end of the day, I love to work with athletes. I love to have an impact on their lives.
"So the opportunity presented itself. I was willing to work my whole career to get to a place like the University of Tennessee. Put a lot of time and a lot of commitment in and work in at University of South Florida and through the NFL. The different experiences I've had have helped me get to a level of program at this caliber that's going to provide you with the resources to be the kind of strength coach you want to be. And with the commitment level with the new facility -- they're showing me what we're going to be able to do here. We have all the tools we need to really get this program back to being one of -- to being the example, and that's what my goal is. To strengthen this strength program and be the example."
You've worked with MLB, NFL, Special Forces and college football. Is there a great deal of difference in your training method to those for entities?
"Physiology doesn't change. I mean, your bicep and my bicep are the same, or whatever muscle you want to pick in that example. What does change is your approach to training and then the sequencing and volume and intensity. So, yes, it varies quite a bit by position. The staple stays true: we want to increase strength and balance and all those types of things with all of our athletes. And at the end of the day, we make things specific to our athletes in terms of prior injuries, position they play, deficiencies they may have. We meet with the coaches and meet with the players and we try to set goals based on the amount of feedback we get. We tailor our program for each individual athlete. I think the experiences have all blended, but it all comes back to effort and accountability. If you give great effort and you hold yourself accountable, then you succeed."