The Hoosiers have put spring practices into the rear view mirror and that means they won’t be under the constant supervision of Coach Kevin Wilson again until late summer. But it’s hardly a time for them to catch their breath from his high expectations. This off-season he expects even more from his team in terms of effort and he has one man in place that will make sure he gets it too.
“Coaches can’t be around athletes working out at all this summer, but I can be,” said new head strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill. “I can conduct workouts, organize a lift or a running time for the guys. I can give them structure and take them through it.
“It’s why Coach Wilson brought me in and put so much value on strength and conditioning because he can’t have any contact with the players this summer so it’s kind of a time where I am totally in charge and he has to trust me that I am getting the job done and taking care of business.”
Hill comes to Bloomington after four years in the same position at Minnesota. His ties to Wilson, though, really formed during his stint as a coach at Oklahoma, where he worked closely with Wilson during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. During his time with the Sooners Hill helped the Sooners to four consecutive top ten finishes, including a 13-0 national championship season in 2000. At Oklahoma he got to know Wilson and now has a full understanding of what the coach needs from his players.
“This winter when we got here we just wanted to get the guys ready for what Coach Wilson and the other coaches were going to bring, the tempo that they were going to have to play with,” said Hill. “It was more of getting them disciplined in their approach, learning how to finish every drill and finish every day strong. It’s learning how to go full-speed all the time and not take any plays or reps off. We had to develop and instill that mindset.”
Helping them sell that message is the Hoosiers numerous close, but no cigar finishes in the 2010 campaign, games where they seemed to simply run out of juice in the final quarter.
“We absolutely use that to motivate them,” said Hill. “We preach everyday finishing everyday in everything we do—finishing every drill, finishing every sprint, finishing every lift, and every single day being the best that you can be and not leaving anything on the field.”
This spring the coaching staff feels like the Hoosiers did a pretty good of job of that. The team adjusted well to a more physical, hands-on, full-contact approach that the staff designed to toughen them up mentally and physically. The previous staff strayed away from so much physical contact in practices often due to injury concerns, but the Hoosiers managed to stay remarkably healthy throughout their most recent spring camp despite the emphasis on full-contact drills. Hill says it wasn’t just good luck.
“I bring a different style of lifting then they were used to doing here,” said Hill. “Nothing against any other former coaches, but I just do a lot more different stuff. It’s a lot more free weights and aerobic stuff in just trying to get the guys ready. Football is a moving sport so you have to strengthen in all different types of areas and make sure the players are strong and can withstand the game. Is there a correlation (to the relatively injury free spring results)? Absolutely. I just try to get them ready for it. My job is to strengthen them, but number one is to keep them healthy and on the field.”
For Hill that meant getting his team accustomed to more Olympic style lifts and having less reliance on the weightlifting machines. Players had become pretty accustomed to using the “less-hassle” machines for their workouts, but Hill felt they were losing something by doing so. Free weights use a greater range of motion and strengthen more areas of the body. For example, the Hoosiers were very reliant on the leg press machine under the previous regime, but Hill has them relying on Olympic squat style lifting now. The coaching staff in general feels like that helped play a role in making the players more explosive out of their crouches this spring and will help them not only in the trenches this fall, but all over the field.
“I just wanted to do my program that I’ve done before and seen be successful and get these guys ready to go,” said Hill. “Is it better than anybody else’s? Well that’s judged in wins and losses so that’s not for me to say. I think it is best for IU football and what Coach Wilson is trying to bring to this program.”
Now the focus is squarely on the next few months, a time when players can opt to ratchet down the intensity for awhile and maybe even visit home. But the current staff believes that would also be opting for not reaching their maximum potential this fall. They’ve sold their team on the philosophy that voluntary workouts lead to voluntary winning during the season.
“It’s voluntary of course, but we tell them that any team that is striving to get somewhere as a team shouldn’t have a problem working on their craft in the summer and being here,” said Hill. “We are just trying to get a total commitment of the whole team to be here in the summer.
“We want them in the best shape of their life this fall. It’s like I told them, it’s going to be a hard summer, it’s going to be something you haven’t done before, but there’s going to be a pot of gold at the end.”