The Wisconsin Badger football program should be fairly adept at adapting by now.
A largely new coaching staff has brought its own style, its own outlook and its own personality to a football team that enjoyed steady leadership until the true tremors of change began when Dave Doeren left in 2010. Long-time assistant Paul Chryst was next. A year later, Bret Bielema took his talents south.
Through all of those shake-ups, the players had an anchor in one of the most important positions in any athletic hierarchy: the strength and conditioning coach. Unfortunately for the players, the stalwart workout guru Ben Herbert was hired by Bielema in mid-December, ending an 11-year run as the main motivational force in the weight room.
Herbert was well-known for his transformative powers and, according to the release announcing his hire at Arkansas, "Herbert helped develop 41 NFL draft picks, including six first-round selections." The Badgers are going to miss that consistency. As summer practices loom, the jury will soon be out on how his replacement shapes up.
Evan Simon is the new man behind the whistle and clipboard in Wisconsin and comes along with head coach Gary Andersen from Utah State. Simon's pedigree includes stints at Kentucky as a graduate assistant, Davidson as head strength coach, Utah as assistant director of strength and conditioning and, most recently, as the head strength and conditioning coach in Logan. He holds the same title in Madison.
However, a new regime brings about new priorities. In an ESPN.com article, standout linebacker Chris Borland remarked on the differences. "Cardiovascular work is stressed more, as is preventative care. Head strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon operates at a faster pace and uses more of an instructional approach than Ben Herbert, who stressed motivation."
An interview Simon gave BenchmarkStrength.com in October 2012 went into a little more detail on his general fitness philosophy. He incorporates "a conjugate periodization system that incorporates all methods of training/body development: max effort, sub-max effort, repetition effort, dynamic effort, flexibility/mobility, and prehab exercises."
The Badgers and Borland will need all of that cardiovascular conditioning and dynamic effort as Andersen is installing a completely new 3-4 defensive scheme. He has also alluded to a more mobile offensive style that will build on the team's power-running background. Practices have mirrored that mindset. The spring sessions were shorter, more intense and underscored by deafening music.
The strength and conditioning coach not only prepares a team for the physical rigors of the game, he is often the head coach's tone setter. With restrictions in place on offseason contact the coaching staff can make with the team, it often falls on the strength and conditioning staff to keep team motivation and focus on-pace to compete when the season starts.
Like almost everything in the 2013 season, stability is replaced by uncertainty. The next era of Wisconsin football lies on the shoulders of Andersen and Simon. Only time will tell if it's a weight too heavy to bear.