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Q&A with Buddy Morris

When Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hired Buddy Morris to run his strength and conditioning program, it provided a shock to the system to the Panthers, who had gone 11-12 and without a bowl appearance the past two seasons.

Morris made an immediate impact in his third stint at Pitt by attempting to break players down and build them back up in his mold. Click here

The effects of training under the “Buddy System” is fairly evident at spring practices, as Panthers players’ physiques are noticeably leaner and more sculpted. There also has been an obvious transformation in attitude after Morris has instilled accountability and discipline. Click here

I had a chance to speak with Morris after Pitt’s first scrimmage on Saturday. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Q: Has coach Wannstedt asked you to instill accountability and discipline in Pitt’s football team through the strength and conditioning program?

A: It’s a 365-day-a-year, 52-week commitment from everybody. We run a very disciplined, accountable program. In other words, we want things done right. If they’re not done right, we’re going to keep doing it over and over and over again until it’s done right. I told coach Wannstedt when I interviewed, ‘There is no room for mediocrity. We’re going do things perfect, we’re going to do them perfect all the time or else consequences are going to be paid.’ It’s a very demanding program, but this is a very demanding, violent sport. We’ve got guys who have done a good job, but they have to do a better job. We have to become more fanatical about training, we have got to become more focused and committed about training. We’ve got to become unforgiving savages.

Q: How far has this team come since you returned?

A: This summer is very important. I was walking across the street with (offensive line coach) Paul Dunn and said, ‘I can’t wait for this (spring drills) to be over. We’ve got to get back to work in the weight room.’ We’ve got to get back to conditioning, back to training like this university has always trained in the past. We’ve got a lot of work. I may be dead at the end of the summer (laughs) but if my death means this program returns to the prominence where it belongs and deserves, then so be it.

Q: Did this team need more discipline instilled?

A: You better make the most of it every day, and that means training. You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got. You may not feel good, but you’ve got to show up and train like every day is game day. That’s the sport, that’s what we expect. That’s what we’re going to demand. That’s what we’re going to focus on, what we can expand. We’re focusing on great effort. We’re focusing on discipline. We’ve got to become more fanatical about training. The first thing they’ve got to do when they get out of bed is think about one thing: getting stronger, getting better. We’ve got to look at how we can get better every day.

Q: Was accountability an issue with this team?

A: I’ve always looked at a football team like a military outfit. You’ve got to be able to look at the guy next to you and know that he’s got your back. I don’t want to jump in a foxhole with a guy who doesn’t want to fight. I want to jump in a foxhole with a guy who will fight until he’s got no fight left, until he’s done. I want to jump in a foxhole with a guy who’s going to lay it on the line every down, every play, every second. That’s what we try to instill in them. You have to be accountable to yourself, to your teammates, but more importantly, you have to take ownership. This is your team. This isn’t my team or coach Wannstedt’s team. This is your team. Five years from now, when you graduate, only one percent of the guys who get drafted make it on the next level, so you can’t rely on that. In five years, when you look back, you want to look back and say, ‘We turned the program around. We won.’ That’s what we’re fighting for.

Q: You’ve mentioned that you seek out speed coaches like Charlie Francis for advice. Have you brought any experts in to speak to the team?

A: I brought in Louie Simmons two weeks ago, the only man over 50 years of age to bench 600 pounds and squat over 900. I brought in Paul Childress last week. At the Arnold (Classic in Columbus) three weeks ago, at a body weight of 308, broke a (WPO) world record in the squat. He squatted 1,148. I brought them in because you learn from strong people. You don’t learn from weak people. Right now, our squatting technique is horrible. I brought Paul in because he’s an expert at it.

Q: We’ve found it interesting the drills injured players are being put through on the sidelines during practice. Is this a motivator to keep players healthy?

A: There is no reason to stand around and watch anything. I always check with Rob Blanc, our trainer, and our physicians. If your right toe moves, you’re going to train your right toe. They’re sled dragging. We’re not going to lose conditioning levels. Coach Wannstedt supports us; he says, ‘Make them work during practice.’ You don’t want them to watch guys work. I don’t believe in that.

Now, they want to be out there. They don’t want to be back there with me. I don’t want to lose that conditioning edge. We’ve got to maintain a high level of conditioning all year round, not when it’s convenient to them. We’ve got to be fit athletes all year round. That’s what being an athlete is all about. We are not where we need to be as a football program, but we’re going to get that corrected.

Q: I’ve heard talk that there were more players bench-pressing 400 pounds when you left in 2001 than when you came back this year. What is the percentage of players who can bench-press 400 pounds?

A: I don’t want to answer that. I consider doing 400 is when guys put that weight on the bar and deliver the knockout punch. It’s not a repetition. I want them to be able to deliver a knockout punch. The first seven weeks here, we spent teaching how to bench, how to squat. You’ve got to teach the movement pattern. You’ve got to teach the practical application of the movement. They’ve got to learn to appreciate the technical skill of the movement itself. I don’t care if it’s a bench press, a squat, a shoulder press, a lat pull down – the thing has to be done perfect. The right muscle must move the right joint at the right time. That’s what I’ve always emphasized.

We’ve got a long way to go. The summer is going to be a rude awakening. This is easy, what we’re doing right now. This is easy. We haven’t hit summer yet. When we hit summer, the train has left the station. We’re starting to pick up speed, and the train ain’t slowing down. If you ain’t on the train, you’re either going to get run over or passed up because I’m not slowing down. We’re not going to let up, so you’ve got to pick it up. We’ve got to keep the pressure on them.”

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