Alabama's $600,000 Strength Coach Is Catalyst of Nick Saban's Dynasty

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Alabama's $600,000 Strength Coach Is Catalyst of Nick Saban's Dynasty
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The voice of Alabama football is lost anew every day. That’s not some exploratory metaphor; it’s quite literally gone. Each day, one after the next. It’s part of the job. In the rare instances Scott Cochran leaves his $9.1 million Tuscaloosa castle with a fully functioning voice box, he knows he didn’t work hard enough.

When Nick Saban has flourished, Cochran, the team's strength coach, has been by his side: yelling, teaching, laughing, rapping, punishing, consoling, moving—always moving—and providing an influence well beyond what his title would imply.

“They’re different voices, but they’re on the same page,” two-time Alabama All-American lineman Barrett Jones told Bleacher Report. “They have the same message, but they have a different way of delivering it. If Coach Saban is the father, he’s almost the mother. He’s the guy that’s with you day in and day out, enforcing the principles. And he’s doing that in an emotional, loving way.”

Together, Saban and Cochran have won four national championships since 2003: one at LSU and three more at Alabama. They are on the cusp of another. Since touching down in Tuscaloosa, they’ve produced 41 NFL draft picks and 37 All-Americans.

Although countless faces have come and gone, Cochran has remained the constant. He’s become synonymous with success at Alabama, so much so that Saban has gone to great lengths to ensure one of his chief assets doesn’t leave.

“The guy has drive that you’ve never seen before,” former Alabama linebacker and national champion Cory Reamer said on Cochran. “It’s hard to find anybody with that kind of motor. I’d challenge you to find someone that can do what he does with his energy level on such a consistent basis.”

After defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was named head coach of Georgia in December, he contacted Cochran to gauge his interest about coming with him. When this possibility seemed to be inching close to a reality, Saban pounced.  

According to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough, Cochran will make no less than $600,000 a year moving forward. Cochran was scheduled to make $420,000 after receiving a raise this past June.

Welcome to a world where a strength coach is now paid like a head coach.

Using USA Today’s assistant coaches salary database, Cochran, at $600,000 a season, would have cracked the top 50 of all assistant coaches nationwide. Perhaps more jarring, he would have made more than roughly a quarter of the FBS head coaches in 2015.

Alabama wasn’t the least bit bothered by the salary demands. In fact, the program was so delighted to retain Cochran, it launched a press release announcing his recommitment to the program.

I'm very happy that Scott Cochran will continue to lead our strength and conditioning program,” Saban said. “He's an important part of our program and does an outstanding job. The players really respond to him, and his role has been a big part of what we have been able to accomplish in terms of our success here both on and off the field.

When’s the last time a team orchestrated a parade to celebrate a strength coach’s return? Then again, Alabama’s luxurious, spacious new weight room is not Cochran’s only playground.

Michael Chang/Getty Images

Yes, it’s on him and his staff to mold some of the nation’s elite athletes into spectacular, unrelenting football creations. That’s objective No. 1.

Cochran’s Fourth Quarter Program is an Alabama training staple. The mentality is to condition players in practice and the weight room so that they’re positioned to outlast opponents late in games.

To coincide with this movement, Cochran holds up four fingers on each hand before the final quarter begins. It’s a symbol for everything they’ve worked toward, and it’s not something he takes lightly.

“He does it during the commercials, too,” Jones said. “It’s wild.

In the weight room, he is one of the best at what he does, and not just because his methods are constantly evolving—something he takes great pride in. Cochran knows precisely what lever to pull and when to pull it.

“I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to punch him in the face. When you’re asleep, going through the motions, he’ll find you,” Reamer said. “He’ll come over and irritate the living hell out of you until you find some energy. I don’t know how he does it, and I don’t know how he’s still standing, because he’s messing with some pretty big boys. But he’s not scared of any of them.”

While position coaches are each tasked with a specific focus, Cochran is the eye in the sky. In practices, he serves as the official soundtrack. He leads stretches, keeps the team loose and oversees the entire roster. Through it all, he’s always talking.

In 2008, with Alabama heading to Athens to take on Georgia in the now infamous blackout game, Cochran became nationally known for his reference to the Bulldog’s penchant for wearing intimidating black jerseys. Bobbing around the practice field, the cameras and microphones caught a man in his element.

“They're wearing black because they're going to their own motherf-----g funeral,” Cochran said [warning: NSFW language] to the team, trying to dip his boisterous voice low enough to avoid the microphone. Or maybe not.

Alabama shut out No. 3 Georgia 31-0 in the first half and went on to win, 41-30.

In games, Cochran plays a variety of roles. When a coach rushes onto the field—usually to protest a call—Cochran is often the one to reel them in by the belt loops or the shoulders.

Every team needs a get back guy; Alabama has Cochran.

When he isn’t lassoing a colleague, Cochran is doing what he does best: shouting, motivating, educating and loving.

“You’re in the middle of the field in the game, and all you hear is him screaming,” Reamer said. “You hear him in your head, and you can still hear him on the sideline. And it really does make a difference. You see other teams breaking down, and you’ve got that extra boost. I believe that’s probably from him.

This is the part that’s out in the open. Motivation, in many ways, takes a back seat to messaging. The true value of Cochran is exemplified when no one’s watching.

With so many moving pieces in the day-to-day operations of a major college football program, coaches don’t often have daily contact with their players. Recruiting and other obligations—along with NCAA limitations that restrict contact—can distance players from the people who recruited them.

“He spends more time with the players than any other coaches,” Reamer said. “He and his staff make sure you’re going to class and where you’re supposed to be. He is there nurturing and making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

He is the messenger throughout much of the year, although he does not just deliver the news. He has helped shape what this message should look like, because he is the constant.

As a result, Cochran has no shortage of supporters. When Jones returns to Tuscaloosa for a weekend, his former strength coach is the first person he dials. It’s not because he wants to hear Cochran yell once more; that’s not what their relationship is like all the time.

There’s compassion buried beneath the energy and ear violence. Those who seek guidance and support just simply have to knock on his door.

“I feel like he's the glue that really just puts us all together,” Alabama wideout Richard Mullaney said. “He's a guy that you can go to for anything, honestly. Doesn't matter what it is, if it's personal or just want to go and talk with him about anything.”

Sure, the idea of a strength coach taking home a small fortune will seem foreign to some. But the profession—at least in this instance—is not limited to honing the body. In Cochran’s case, he has managed to transform a position that specializes in physical gains into one that benefits the mind, body and soul.

On the surface, he’s the man behind the squat rack. He’s the lunatic unable to control the volume or stamina of his own voice. He's the mad scientist tasked with crafting a football army.

That’s part of it, certainly. It’s a necessary part of the profession. But it doesn’t end there. In his entirety, Cochran is everything that Saban is not. He is everything the nation’s most successful head coach wants, but cannot provide.

It’s why the two have shared sidelines on two campuses and are on the verge of their fifth national title.

“He is vital,” Jones said. “We wouldn’t have the success we’ve had without him. I really believe that.”

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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