Posted by Adam Jacobi
Brady Hoke is the new head coach at Michigan (perhaps you've heard). Hoke hasn't filled out his entire staff yet, but one move he was expected to make was bringing his strength & conditioning coach from San Diego State ; being as that's the case, that means it's the end of the line for Michigan S&C coach Mike Barwis. The fact that QB Devin Gardner bid Barwis a farewell on Twitter means all that's left is the formality of an official announcement.
Now, there are now no more open head coaching opportunities in the FBS as we speak, and that means barring something weird happening, Rich Rodriguez will not be a FBS head coach for the 2011 season. He can spend the season with his family and/or making spot appearances on ESPN, and that's a fine way to pass a year or two between coaching gigs -- especially with the generous buyout Michigan gave him as part of the severance. Barwis didn't get the $2.5 million Rodriguez got, however, and it would be a surprise if he didn't actively pursue a different job for the coming season.
Therefore, the Rodriguez-Barwis connection and Michigan-Barwis connections are both effectively over, which means there is a high-level S&C coach available to anyone who wants one. And make no mistake, Barwis is still a high-level coach; his players at West Virginia under Rodriguez were fast, strong, and mean, as typified by fullback Owen Schmitt (the "runaway beer truck," as he was called by one announcer). Barwis is a new-school type of coach, emphasizing fast-twitch muscle development, agility, and endurance more than 40 times and basketball-sized biceps. In fact, he doesn't look like a typical old-school S&C coach: so thick-necked and bald that they usually look like thumbs with faces. I say that with love.
Bringing in a new S&C regime (which is to say: different methods, not just a different guy assigning the same workouts) along with a new coach has a track record of success; at Iowa , for one example, Kirk Ferentz hired Chris Doyle from Utah and made Doyle's intense workouts the centerpiece of Iowa's campaign to turn its fortunes around. The Hawkeyes were in a bowl by the third year and in the Top 10 by the fourth, and the fact that the turnaround was led by lightly-recruited players who ended up All-Americans like Bob Sanders , Robert Gallery , and Dallas Clark speaks volumes about Doyle's influence on the program's success. And while Barwis shouldn't promise he can make All-Americans out of walk-ons, he can point to Doyle's work at Iowa and his own at West Virginia as proof of what a fresh approach to strength and conditioning can do for a football program.
Of course, Barwis can and should expect to be asked why Michigan looked so physically unprepared -- especially on defense -- three years into the Rich Rodriguez era. But really, there's only so much an S&C coach can accomplish when the team has to continually throw out freshmen to play against juniors and seniors. Yes, a player typically sees the most improvement earliest in his time in a strength and conditioning program, and yes, there are diminishing returns by the fifth year. But diminishing returns or not, the aggregation of conditioning plus both in-game and practice experience had by a senior in any program is generally more than a freshman should be expected to overcome. That's more on Rich Rodriguez and Greg Robinson than anybody else, and when Barwis find a coach that agrees with that assessment and needs to make a hire at S&C, he'll probably have a job shortly thereafter.