Over the coming weeks and months, FootballScoop plans to highlight a handful of talented, accomplished coaches on the free agent market. The first is former Kent State, Tulsa, Missouri and NFL strength coach and performance director Jeff Fish.
You've seen it happen countless times before. An important game, a charged up opponent and a stadium on the verge of hysteria, and the home team comes out flat. They didn't actively choose to come out flat, of course, it just happened, and the team may not even know why.
Jeff Fish knows why, and he's devoted his entire professional existence to prevent a flat performance, and all of its negative consequences, from happening.
"I've seen it for so many years that a lot of time you get to game day and not everybody is ready to go," Fish said. "There's physical fatigue that wasn't addressed during the week, there's outside stresses, home life or academics, or different stresses that weren't attended to. You get into a competitive situation on game day and you've got a percentage of your team that's not at their best."
Fish served as the Atlanta Falcons' performance director from 2008-12, the first position of its kind in the NFL. Overseeing the entire performance picture beyond just the weight room, Fish knew that his players had a life beyond the weight room, so he designed a program that would analyze their entire lives in an attempt to help their output on Sundays. Fish worked with any person that touched an Atlanta Falcon, from the sports medicine and rehabilitation staff, to nutritionists, to outside staff such as massage therapists, chiropractors and sports psychologists, to get the entire organization pulling in the same direction. He then devised a performance plan for each member of the team.
"Tailoring everything that you did with your team from an individual standpoint, from workloads in the weight room, workloads on the practice field, using technology to monitor those and then monitor the recovery rates within each individual. It's sleep and not just the length of sleep but the quality of sleep," Fish said of his work with the Falcons. "It's basically a total performance model done in a team setting but also driven by individual data that was collected to get all hands on deck to help that individual so that the end result on game day is that your entire team is on an optimal level, ready to go compete."
What Fish developed in Atlanta has now taken root in college football, with programs like Stanford, Missouri, Baylor and Kentucky, to name a few, now employing a global approach to strength training.
FIsh's career started as a graduate assistant at Western Michigan from 1989-90, worked as an assistant at Clemson from 1991-93, and then earned his first head strength job at Kent State in 1993. From there, he led the strength program at Tulsa from 1995-97, served as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1998-00, then departed for Missouri in 2001. He took over the Oakland Raiders' strength program from 2004-07 until general manager Thomas Dimitroff brought him to Atlanta in 2008.
Along the way, Fish tutored some of the absolute best in strength business today.
"I learned a lot from Jeff as an assistant," said Missouri head strength coach Pat Ivey, who worked under Fish at Missouri from January 2001 to August 2002. "A lot of those things I still use and apply today. He's really, really good at developing the physical attributes of an athlete. His organization skills are outstanding. His ability to process information is one of the best I've been around."
"Jeff helped me break into this profession, and to be honest with you I didn't even know what I didn't know at that point," said Stanford head strength coach Shannon Turley, who served under Fish as a graduate assistant and then again as a full-time assistant at Missouri. "Jeff helped me learn a lot of organizational habits that I still lean on today, and really taught me about the impact of attention to detail in everything that you do in your preparation."
While his former assistants are setting the standard for strength training in college football, their former boss is looking for work. After leaving Atlanta, Paul Allen hired Fish to consult with each of his three teams - the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and Portland TrailBlazers - for a year. But now, Fish is looking to break back into college football.
What would a collegiate athletics department get in Jeff Fish? Turley explains.
"He has very high expectations, and he's very good at creating a structure that will help you find the best in yourself," he said. "He's going to be very demanding and have very high expectations with that plan, but he's meticulously organized and prepared, and he's going to give you a lot of feedback and be brutally honest with you in that regard. Some people, I'll be honest, they can't take it. The people that want to be great and are willing to do the work and can handle that kind of brutal honesty really thrive. I know I did. I can't tell you how many times I saw people change when I was there with him at Missouri. As freshmen they were immature excuse makers and turned into being leaders and captains. Some of the guys he was harshest to and kept the closest eye on, they were the ones who appreciated it the most."
One of the top free agents on the strength market, Fish hopes to apply his global approach with his next college football team.
"I've never wanted to be pigeon-holed as just a strength coach, where you're just in the weight room and you're spotting guys," said Fish. "I just think there's a greater responsibility and there's more that you can do to optimize each person."