Mike Clark's Coaching Bio
1979-1980 - Topeka High School, Assistant Football Coach, Head Swimming Coach.
1981-1982 - University of Wyoming, Head Strength Coach.
1982-1983 - University of Kansas, Head Strength Coach.
1983-1988 - University of Oregon, Head Strength Coach
1988-1990 - University of Southern California, Head Strength Coach.
1990-1998 - Texas A&M University, Head Strength Coach.
1998-2004 - Texas A&M University, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Performance.
2004-2010 - Seattle Seahawks, Strength & Conditioning Coordinator.
2010-2013 - Kansas City Chiefs, Head Strength Coach.
2013-2015 - Chicago Bears, Strength & Conditioning Coordinator.
2015-2017 - Washington Redskins, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach.
2017-Present - Trinity University, Head of Football Performance.
In 1978, while enrolled in graduate school at the University of Kansas, I met a man who would change my outlook on the future of my life. I had always wanted to become a high school coach because those men had such an impact on my life.
But while I was at Kansas studying Perceptual Motor Development (working with physically handicapped children) and Exercise Physiology, I had the chance to meet Coach Keith Kephart. Coach Kephart was the strength and conditioning coach at KU, and he showed me that I could put my love of lifting and exercise physiology to good use as a strength coach.
I had never heard of such a thing and was blown away by the thought that I could actually make a career out of my natural interest in training for athletics. Coach Kephart had opened my eyes to the possibility of a different direction for my life, but at the time I had no idea where that path would take me.
After attending grad school, I was teaching and coaching at Topeka High School in Topeka, Kansas. I had taken a trip at the start of summer to visit a friend in Dallas, TX. While I was there, a college teammate tracked me down and left a message on my friend's answering machine.
"Call this number; they have a strength coaching position open," is all it said. I called the number, and a lady named Jo Kraemer answered. She started telling me about the job, and that her husband is helping with the search. Jo talks to me for about five minutes before I finally interrupt her and ask, "Just where is this job?"
She goes silent, finally saying it is at the University of Wyoming. I say okay and she asks me, "Are you still interested?"
Later that day, I get the chance to talk with her husband, Bill, who was a PhD student studying Exercise Physiology. I was hired for my first S&C position by Bill Kraemer.
What an experience, getting to know and hang out with Wild Bill the Boy Scientist, as he was known around the athletic department. I was privileged to be a part of a blood lactate study Bill was doing that proved that high intensity circuits were not appropriate for the training of college football players. That study is still referenced today when speaking about training specificity for sport.
While I was at Wyoming, I had no idea of the relationship bond that I would build and still enjoy with Bill. We don't talk every day, but when we do it is as if we have been together the day before. Wyoming would provide me with another relationship that I still enjoy today. When I went to the high plains of Wyoming, the last thing I was looking for and the last thing I wanted was to find a wife.
After our loss to Hawaii, our staff got together at the apartment of one of our GA's (Steve Rondeau). It was there in a tiny apartment that I met the woman of my dreams. I tried to tell myself that it was not real, and that the thin air must be getting to me, but deep down I knew she was the one. As it turned out, I found the perfect coach's wife, and I can truly say that I would not have had the success I enjoyed in my career without Kris. She has always had a way of making things better and more enjoyable, no matter through the good times and bad.
After spending just one year at the University of Wyoming, I left to return to the University of Kansas, to what I thought would be my dream job. I did not go into coaching to get rich but to make a difference in the lives of all those that I coach. When I went from Wyoming to Topeka High School I took a substantial pay cut, from $16,000 to $11,000, so when Kansas offered me $19,000 to come back to Lawrence, I thought I had really made it big. Our football season and basketball season did not meet expectations, and the three men who had made the decision to hire me were let go.
As it turned out, I was fired from my dream job the day I got back from our honeymoon. I was in the office at 7:00 a.m., had a meeting at 8:30 a.m., and was home without a job and with my last paycheck already in the bank by 10:00 a.m. That was an extremely stressful time, with a new wife and no job, however it turned out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
After several weeks of wondering if I had made a mistake by becoming a strength coach, I received a call from Pete Martinelli telling me that the University of Oregon needed a Strength Coach. Pete gave me the phone number of the head football coach, Rich Brooks, along with some other information about the job. As I was writing some notes from our conversation, the phone rang, and it was Rich Brooks. I was given an interview and eventually offered the job. "Honey, what do you think about the west coast?"
As it turns out, Oregon was a great place to be a young strength coach. It seemed like every other month a foreign track team would come over to train in Eugene, especially throws coaches. They came to visit with our hammer coach. Sometimes they would come and use our weight room. Watching them train and getting a chance to talk with some of the coaches was quite informative.
While at Oregon, I had the pleasure to coach numerous standout athletes, but one of them was unique. Gary Zimmerman, who played offensive guard on our team, was already an all-Pac 10 player and a projected high draft pick. He was receptive to my coaching and threw himself into everything he did. His willingness to work at the things I was teaching game me instant credibility with the rest of the team. Gary went on to a long successful NFL career and ended up in the Hall of Fame.
After leaving Oregon, I went to The University of Southern California. The first player I met was Junior Seau. He had managed to get into the weight room while I was signing my contract. When I finished and went to the weight room, he was there training. He came over, introduced himself, and I asked him if he'd ever done power cleans . . .
"Not really," was his response, so we put bumpers on a bar and went to work. To say he was a natural does not truly describe him. Junior was ruggedly built and very explosive; once he learned the basics of the exercise, which happened after four of five sets, he began going up in weight. His last set of 2 reps that day had 315 on the bar.
Needless to say, I felt pretty good about my coaching that day. The truth is, if Junior had watched a video he would have been able to do the same thing just by mimicking what he saw. From that day on, Junior was a big proponent of my program, and, like Gary Zimmerman, once he was on board, the team was on board.
When I went to USC, Larry Smith was out head coach. Coach Smith told me that since he had been a head coach at Arizona, and now USC, that he had a really poor record in his opening games. Something like four wins and 12 losses. He asked me to make sure we trained hard in the summer and to be ready for the season. Needless to say, he wanted to make sure our team was in really good condition for out first game of the season against a very good Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome.
So, on the first day of training camp, Coach Smith had the team do a conditioning drill called four corners. The team was divided up into four groups and put into the four different corners of the end zones. Half the group in each end zone would run around the field about 325 yards while the other half stayed in their corner and did situps, pushups, bodyweight squats and such. The team ran 5 reps of the four corners drill. This was Coach Smith's favorite conditioning drill and one he had done every year he'd been a head coach.
Needless to say, I was a bit nervous at the staff meeting that night when I brought up the subject of our conditioning. Some of the staff looked at me like I'd been dropped from Mars when I explained that although the four corners drill was a very good general conditioning drill, it was not specific to the metabolic needs of a football team getting ready to play their first game. It took some convincing, but Coach Smith allowed me to run the conditioning for the team after practices from that point on.
We began running much shorter and much faster runs, scramble start 15s and 20s. Also drills that had short change of direction, jingles, jangles, and much less running overall. Coach Smith and some of the other staff would question me, asking if we were truly running enough. I must say, I was a little nervous about the outcome, but I could see where our players were practicing harder and faster.
About five days before the game my father in law passed away unexpectedly, so when the team traveled to New York for the game I was in Wyoming for his funeral. John's funeral was in the afternoon, and we played that evening, so after the service we sat down to mourn and watch the game.
USC got after Syracuse and dominated from the very start, and I was pleased, but also conflicted. About an hour after the game was over, the phone rings and my mother in law answers.
"Mike, it's for you!" Larry Smith was on the other end informing me that he had given me a game ball in the locker room. He felt that our team was in the best condition of any team he had ever coached for the first game. Normally, the things we do as strength coaches don't show up until much later because training is such a long term process. This, however, reminded me that we do have an effect that can be felt for the good or bad in the short term.
What we do today matters.
While at USC, Angel Spassov, a strength and conditioning coach from Bulgaria had defected, and was on a speaking tour of the U.S.
His last stop was a clinic we hosted at USC. A very dynamic and authoritative speaker, he captivated the audience as we all strained to understand him in his heavy Bulgarian accent. After the clinic, he had no place to stay, so he stayed with us. What an education, riding to and from work with him in the car and having the privilege of watching him coach our players.
The decision to leave USC after just two years was difficult. I loved coaching at USC. All the athletes on all the teams were fun to coach, and they truly were appreciative of the time and effort to help them. The only things I did not like were the traffic and the earthquakes. We had just had a quake that was centered very close to our house; I was at work 33 miles away and did not feel a thing because I was out on the field running the team. Kris was okay, but she was getting tired of feeling like a single mom of two boys. So when Texas A&M called, I listened. After much thought and prayer, we left Southern California for College Station, TX. What a culture change . . . from surfer dudes to squared away Texas.
The ground work for the profession of strength and conditioning had been laid in the '80s, but I personally saw the effects of that foundation take place in the '90s. When I first went to A&M, I had on fulltime assistant but four graduate assistants. During the '90s at A&M, my staff grew and changed to five fulltime assistants and up to eight graduate assistants. While there, we started a graduate program for S&C, and those grad students took a class from one of my assistants, Raychelle Ellsworth.
We had a wealth of manpower in the mid to late '90s that we used to assess athlete readiness through periodical vertical jump testing and perceived exertion surveys. We performed body comps by underwater weighing and max VO2 testing in the lab connected to our weight room. We were able to do heart rate studies that included football strength and conditioning workouts, practices, and games. This led to the development of a refined program designed to train our athletes in a sport-specific manner.
By this time, I had developed strong feelings about how I wanted to train our team. I was mainly working football so my focus was on developing an explosive, fast football team. Our head coach, RC Slocum, always wanted a fast team, so this was a very good match. Football speed is not just about running in a straight line. In fact, it is more important to be able to accelerate, stop, and reaccelerate.
With that in mind, I felt it was important to train for power while on our feet. So Olympic lifts, squats, jumps and towing sleds for speed were important in our program. I had realized early on that the bench press was not the cornerstone of training it had been made out to be when I first started coaching.
The more we training on our feet, the better we became. At that point, A&M was known for the Wrecking Crew on defense and running the ball on offense. It was a fun time, filled with good wins and good players.
Like Oregon and USC, when I first arrived at A&M I was blessed with a player who had already had great success and embraced me and my program. Quentin Coryatt, who became the second player picked in the draft and was best known for "The Hit," became the hardest worker and the biggest proponent of our program. Without him, I'm not sure if I would have had the same success I was able to enjoy at Texas A&M. The culture of "hard work pays off" became the backbone of the Strength Program at A&M and it permeated to other sports as well.
As I write this today, I am reminded that none of us have become successful on our own. I was blessed with great opportunities to learn from some of the best minds that have formulated principles we all use today. I am merely a combination of great minds, including the minds of Bill Kraemer, Jimmy Radcliffe, Angel Spassov, Allen Kinley, Rob Graf, Vernon Banks, Larry Jackson and Robb Rogers. I was blessed to hire one of the first female assistants, and one of the best strength coaches in Raychelle Ellsworth.
All of these people and more have shaped me, and in many cases they taught me more than I taught them. I hope the strength coaches of today and beyond will honor the legacy that so many have strived to leave behind. A legacy of professionalism and a genuine desire to do what is the very best for the athletes they coach.
Enjoy Your Lifting!
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