Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
No. 13: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
No. 12: Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, Arizona State
Who: David Ballou and Matt Shea, Alabama
Titles: Director of sports performance and director of sports science
Previous stops: Both performed similar tasks at Indiana.
Why they’re important: This is Year 3 of our now annual offseason series, and the first time we’ve highlighted the hiring of a strength coach. It’s not that strength coaches are unimportant — no one would argue that — but their presence is hard to quantify and even harder to pinpoint.
But this move, Alabama’s first change in the strength room of the Nick Saban era, required bucking precedent.
With them, Alabama firmly moves into the New School of strength and conditioning thought. Ballou and Rhea will add new terms to the vocabulary in Tuscaloosa, such as “Rate of Force Development.”
“We use this Elite Form system that has 3D cameras on every rack, and it tracks everything, how fast the bar moves, how much weight is on the rack, everything,’’ Ballou said in October. “And that’s how we get the power numbers, all that data. It’s all right there for us on the back end, so we’re not walking around with clipboards counting things. It adds it all up for us.
“Me and Doc do most of the data and analytics stuff ourselves. I like doing it myself because I can really see what’s going on. It’s more hands-on, and it sits better with me.’’
Ballou and Rhea first crossed paths in 2009, when Ballou graduated from a National Strength and Conditioning Association master’s program overseen by Rhea. But they didn’t partner up until 2016, at IMG Academy.
“It made a huge difference for us, in multiple ways,” IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright told the Indianapolis Star. “Not just for the increasing in speed and strength, but a cut in the number of documented injuries, as well as the gains we made during the season.”
“They’ve found this combination of extreme intensity and science,” Indiana senior Wes Martin told the Star last year. “They’ve merged that together, and that’s what’s made them so special.”
In addition to gearing their program to train players to produce maximum output at the point of attack, the pair will work to prevent injuries, something that derailed the Tide’s 2019 season, which saw torn ACLs suffered by Trey Sanders, middle linebacker Dylan Moses and mike backer Joshua McMillon lead a lengthy camp injury report.
“Just as with any other area, we feel that it is imperative that we adopt and integrate advancements in the field of strength and conditioning that will provide elite training, while better protecting our players from injuries and helping them develop and perform at a higher level,” Saban said upon Ballou and Rhea’s hiring in March. “Our program has been working toward these type of advancements with the development and construction of our own sports science center, and with the addition of David and Matt, we believe our student-athletes will be better equipped to reach their goals for many years to come.”
The evidence to see if Ballou and Rhea’s methods are working will be everywhere and nowhere. If the Crimson Tide’s running game jumps by 0.2 yards per carry, if they post an extra 0.5 sacks per game, if their number of snaps lost to injury fall by 30 percent, that will be Ballou and Rhea’s work, and also the work of the players themselves, their coaches, and just plain luck.
But by the end of the year, we’ll know. One way or the other, it’ll be clear if Alabama met the physical challenge of the 2020 season. And make no mistake, this season will be a challenge in a way that past seasons have not:
— a neutral site opener against Pac-12 favorite USC
— a home game against Georgia
— a trip to play what could be the best Tennessee team in a decade-plus
— a trip to LSU
— a date with a possibly 10-0 Texas A&M team
— the Iron Bowl
— if all of that goes well, a rematch with Georgia/Tennessee or a date with Florida in the SEC title game
Then, if Alabama’s lucky, the Tide will earn the right to face (likely) Clemson, Ohio State or both.
And if the Tide ends that gauntlet on a stage with a trophy in hand, Ballou and Rhea will have done their job.