Five Thoughts: Joe Caldwell

We’ve all seen him. The beard that makes him look like an extra from a Viking movie, and whether it’s 100 plus degree weather to start the season, or the snow and single digits in the playoffs, he’s always in the short sleeve coach’s shirt and shorts, he’s always there, in the trenches, with his guys.

They go by many titles: Director of Sports Performance. Strength and Conditioning Coach. Strength Coach. And, most likely, some not so nice names by players in their charge. They can be tough and demanding. They also can be the difference between a championship season and a losing one.

The concept of a full-time strength and conditioning coach is relatively new. In Commerce, there was the old ETSU Barbell Club, and there were other groups of athletes at other universities and high schools that would gather and lift weights, but there never seemed to be any organization and measurement of improvements.

Today, all that has changed. Athletes have gotten bigger and faster. Seasons have gotten longer. The demands of time and performance on the athletes have increased. So, how does the athlete rise to meet these challenges? Enter the strength and conditioning coach.

Joe Caldwell’s approach to the position is simple and straightforward: “My football career and Strength & Conditioning career ae in complete alignment, and that’s why I was hired at 28 (some people told me I was too young when I got here), but my experience is ahead of my age due to the eagerness I have to prepare to serve the athletes every single day. The mentors and relationships that I have developed throughout my career. All strength coaches are different due to staffing/facilities/resources. Coach Bailiff is truly a player’s coach. He wants them to be great men in all phases of life- I know that is a winning culture because that a productive and family first mentality.”

Brian and I here at The Wire hope we’re able to shed some light on an often overlooked, but extremely important position to every phase of an athletic program. Without further delay, let’s take a look:

1, It’s a long road from Auburn, Alabama to Commerce, Texas. How did you get here?

Caldwell:

Honestly a lot of hard work, patience, and faith in God.  Entering college, I had aspirations of being a Physical Therapist.  At Auburn, I walked on to the football team and that is when I was introduced to the profession that I had no clue existed.  I had never had a strength and conditioning coach.  We worked out in high school, but technique was not really part of the equation.  My head strength and conditioning coach at Auburn was Kevin Yoxall (The East Texas State Legend). 

Coach Yox showed me daily that consistently working towards my goals in the weight room could eliminate, or greatly reduce, the possibility of ever having to work with a physical therapist at all.  Coach Yox pushed us all to be the best that we could be.  He had the ability to consistently teach us skills in the weight room – while also keep us accountable with conditioning.  When I get around teammates we often discuss workouts that we completed under Coach Yox and we often reach this consensus ( If we would’ve been told what we were going to do that day – before the lift/run – most of us would have quit because we did not think it was possible).  He had the ability to push us to the edge, but just to the edge.  Perfectly dialed in for success.  Kevin Yoxall took the time to get to truly know each of us – he figured out ways to encourage – us to break through the basic goal we had – we climbed higher than we thought we could – every single day.

After my playing career at Auburn – I really wanted to be a strength coach.  Coach Yox allowed me to be an intern strength coach.  I worked at Auburn under Kevin Yoxall(2012) and Ryan Russell (2013).  Kevin Yoxall became the head strength coach at Rice University in 2014.  He called and asked if I would be interested in continuing my journey in the world of strength with him.  I was an unpaid intern at rice and climbed the ranks to 2nd lead assistant to lead assistant strength and conditioning coach.  At Rice I worked for Kevin Yoxall and then I worked for Ryan Tedford (both continue to have an extremely large impact on my life/career).  At Rice, & at Auburn, I was assigned to be the liaison to Athletic training.  The ability to work with passionate athletic trainers, working in conjunction with our strength staff, allowed for efficient return to play progressions for a variety of injuries.  I will always value and cherish those relationships.  At Rice is where I was fortunate enough to meet and work for Coach David Bailiff.  Coach Bailiff is the definition of a PLAYER’S COACH.  He truly wants every single person on our staff and on our football roster to be great in all aspects of life.  I feel blessed walking into Whitley Gym every single day with the ability to serve all athletes here at Texas A&M – Commerce! 

2. What was your biggest surprise coming from a Division 1 FBS program to what was a Division 2 program at the time?

Caldwell:

The biggest surprise would definitely have to be the roster sizes of all sports.  We had 186 football players on our football roster when I arrived here.  FBS is only allowed to have 120.  All sports had a large roster.  FBS also has five full time strength coaches for football only.  We have extremely talented and hardworking athletes on every roster.  They are truly a blessing to work with.

3. What has been your biggest challenge so far in the transition to Division 1?

Caldwell:

The biggest challenge we faced here was the changes in eligibility for our student-athletes.  In Division 1 a student athlete has 5 years to play 4 upon enrollment into college.  We had some athletes that had to transfer to continue their careers in their respective sports due to this change.  That was very tough. 

4. Both Head and Assistant Coaches often measure success by wins and losses. How do Strength and Conditioning Coaches?

Caldwell:

I believe this question would be answered differently by all strength and conditioning coaches.  I believe what I have seen work.  Athletes are recruited to play sports in college.  They are not recruited to lift weights and condition.  The ability of a team to truly get excited about the development of their body for sport is huge.  The patience to learn each skill that is needed to demonstrate their athletic ability is powerful.  The weight cannot think.  It alone has no power.  The athletes must move the weight efficiently & correctly in order to achieve athletic transfer to their respective sport.  That is the power.  That is when barriers become broken.  That is when the confidence to lift more weight comes from.  Each rep is important – each set must build the body and confidence When athletes see their progress day in and day out together, they get closer as a team.  The DETAILS make or break it.  Wins and losses for a strength coach happen when each team embraces the rules/guidelines put in place.  When the athletes buy into the rules/guidelines become STANDARDS.  The team as a collective have the power to create standards.  Standards become home and the athletes develop trust in themselves and each other.  When adversity hits – they have the ability to harness all of the unity they’ve built to fight back. 

5. What is a typical game week routine for you?

Caldwell: Typically, Sunday is a practice off day. I get to work between 4:30/4:45AM and I get a lot of my computer work/emails & data input done then.  I lift the developmental/nontravel football players at 6AM Monday – Thursday all season.  I have Softball at 7AM Monday, Wednesday, Thursday.  Then I go down for football practice & lead stretch at 8:05AM.  Once practice is over around 9:45/10AM the Travel squad comes to the weight room and I train them Monday, Wednesday, Thursday all season.  The session typically lasts 30-45 minutes per athlete and they are out of the weight room no later than 11:15AM.  Throughout the rest of the day, I have administrative meetings and I help Lance Farmer with his assigned teams as much as I can.  We typically have a football staff meeting daily to discuss practice scripts as well as injury report briefings from the athletic trainers.  Fridays for home games we have perfect practice in the evening, so I get a lot of prep work for the trip done in the morning.  Packing the pregame bag and assisting with anything that is needed for the upcoming game.  Fridays of road games I typically help load the equipment for the guys and get everything prepared for the road.  Players arrive and receive breakfast, so I assist with distribution.  I drive a Tahoe to the games, in which the team busses, to be the standby driver to assist athletic trainers postgame if an athlete has an injury and needs a hospital visit/pick up which would mean a later departure.   Hotels – I attend all meals with the team.  I hand out electrolyte beverages/water constantly.  Game day I lead stretch strap routines for all players before the full team stretch.  After that I assist with personnel call ups for special team units throughout the game while making sure all players stay behind THE LINE.  Halftime I had out fueling/replenishing items for the players while coaches lead halftime adjustments.  After halftime I lead the team through another warmup to be prepared for the second half.  

BONUS: Who is the strongest athlete you’ve ever seen?

Caldwell:

This is a tough to answer because I have worked with a lot of extremely gifted athletes.  I believe that strength is relative to confidence and consistency.    Jay Prosch (Auburn), Greg Robinson(Auburn), Blake Poole(Auburn), Dee Ford(Auburn), Zac Clayton(Auburn), Josh Boateng(TAMU-C), Joe Brown(TAMU-C), Morgan Estell(Auburn), Corey Grant(Auburn), Darik Dillard(Rice), D.J. Green(Rice), Kader Kohou(TAMUC), Kylen Granson(Rice), Justin Garrett(Auburn),Tiffany Howard(Auburn), Jodie Hill(TAMUC), Lee Ziemba(Auburn) – all are just a few examples of being STRONG in life/weights and excelling in sports.

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