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How strength coaches can get in front of changes coming to the industry

Kent State freshman offensive tackle Tyler Heintz passed away in June, just two days after reporting for summer conditioning. The preliminary cause of death according to the coroner's office that examined Heitz's body was hypothermia.

According to an open records request from CBS Sports, the head strength coach in charge of the workout, Ross Bowsher, does not carry certifications with either the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) or the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA).

It is worth mentioning that four coaches under Bowsher did carry certifications, and that an independent review of the workouts both on the day Heintz passed and the day before found them both to be within industry norms.

Still, it's hard to imagine a worse outcome for a college football program than a player dying after a workout supervised by an uncertified coach.

"Today, the way liability is, if you're not certified by an accredited organization you're walking on thin ice," CSCCa executive director Chuck Stiggins told CBSSports. "Lawsuits could be $20 million-$30 million dollars. I can't imagine hiring someone without the appropriate credentials."

The Kent State case is also not a lone outlier. Oregon suspended head strength coach Irele Oderinde shortly after his arrival after multiple players were hospitalized during winter workouts. A CBS investigation in March found that Oderinde was certified only to supervise track workouts and that "[f]our industry experts totaling 100 years of experience said they didn't consider Oderinde properly certified to be a football strength coach."

Cases like these are what Bob Bowlsby had in mind when he announced at Big 12 media days the NCAA would investigate the certification and supervision processes of strength coaches.

“We’re going to spend some time looking at strength and conditioning coaches and how they come to be strength and conditioning coaches, what they can do, how they’re supervised and the like,” Bowlsby said last month. “I think that all it will do is, once again, make it a safer environment for student-athletes because, when you look at the catastrophic occurrences that are happening in the sport, the deaths are happening during conditioning and off-season practice. Very few of them are happening during the season, during contact, during regular preparation.”

In response to the CBS story, and with Bowlsby's words on his mind, Louisiana Tech strength coach Kurt Hester authored a Facebook post that we are sharing with you below. Hester has been the Bulldogs' head strength coach since 2013 and has been in the industry for more than two decades. Widely respected amongst his peers, Hester was a finalist for FootballScoop's Strength Coach of the Year award in 2016.

With the current state of the NCAA and the over reaction that is sure to come in the near future over the qualifications and certifications of strength coaches; I feel as a profession we need to be proactive in this matter. Yes we need to be highly educated and certified, there is no argument. My argument is that being highly educated is only a third of what is necessary to become a qualified coach and a coach with expertise. Experience, the ability to establish culture, ability to mentor athletes as well as staff, ability to establish trust, ability and back bone to stand up to sport coaches and a dynamic personality all factor in to being a qualified coach.

The NCAA will (sic) put all the blame on us and our profession and will absolve all and any sport coach of any responsibility when it comes to the care of the athlete. It is not uncommon for the sport coach to dictate programing and/or disciplining and the strength coach is at their mercy because of fear of losing employment. We know that the NCAA needs to educate the sport coach more than worry about educating the performance coach. As it stands most coaches are over educated in relation to the average salary in the field. If we leave it up to the NCAA to police our field we are in a world of trouble. We need to be proactive and honestly evaluate our own performances as well as our staff to start. We also need to work with on formulating a fair system of evaluating current collegiate staffs before the NCAA comes up with a reactionary and ridiculous response. Don’t count on any of our strength and conditioning organizations to help because they’re to busy certifying 5000 more coaches a year for the 1500 potentially available positions and 25 advertised full-time positions a year.

1) As a Professional, how would you and your staff prefer to be certified and evaluated?
2) How do you evaluate and educate your staff annually?

I am currently working with a few professors in the field in hopes of laying out a reasonable plan in front of the NCAA. You can email me at with your reply or recommendations.

Thank you in advance for your involvement,

Kurt Hester
La Tech Sport Performance

Hester and Bowlsby may have some differences in opinions on the need for an NCAA review of strength coaches, but Hester hits at the central point: an NCAA review is coming, so it would benefit all involved for strength coaches to collaborate with the NCAA rather than sit back and let the bureaucrats call all the shots.