Life in the Weight Room: Adam Hall's Strong Suit
Aug. 15, 2014
SAN DIEGO -
Past Mick McGrane 2014 football features
Life in the Weight Room: Adam Hall's Strong Suit
By Mick McGrane (@MickOnTheMesa)
While the waning days of 2008 weren't absent of uncertainty on the part of San Diego State football fans, this much was clear:
If Brady Hoke was coming to hoist the Aztecs from the depths of despair, he wasn't coming without the necessary muscle.
For five years, Aaron Wellman had served as the director of strength and conditioning on Hoke's staff at Ball State. At SDSU, he would come to be known as a master motivator, a devoted advocate of discipline and toughness whose approach in the weight room was to push players to limits previously unexplored.
He would also come to be known as a key figure in Hoke agreeing to become the program's 14th head coach.
Said Hoke of Wellman: "If I couldn't have brought him here, I wouldn't have taken this job."
Assisting Wellman in his first season with the Aztecs was Adam Hall. If the name was familiar, the positioning of Hall as a volunteer coach in the team's weight room undoubtedly prompted some not-so-subtle snickers. While Hall had needed just three seasons to become a 5,000-yard passer with the Aztecs from 2001-03, quarterbacks and barbells are mentioned in the same sentence about as often as frankfurters and fine dining.
After one season, Hall, who had spent a year as a quarterback at Texas before transferring to SDSU, returned to his hometown of Austin to serve as the Longhorns' offensive graduate assistant before being named the program's recruiting coordinator in 2011.
At SDSU, meanwhile, Wellman had exited to join Hoke when the latter announced he was leaving to become the head coach at Michigan at the conclusion of the 2010 season. Former Michigan State and Eastern Kentucky strength coach Rick Court was hired to replace Wellman, but left after one season to accept a similar position at Ohio State.
Then-second-year Aztecs head coach Rocky Long, ignoring the maxim that you don't mess with Texas, placed a phone call to Hall and offered him the position.
"It meant everything to me," Hall said. "When I got that phone call, I was so happy because I had jumped back over to the football and operations side of it (at Texas) and I really missed the interaction with the players. I missed demanding things out of players and I missed watching players grow.
"It wasn't real smooth (leaving Texas), because when you leave a staff sometimes they don't understand why you're doing it. I got a lot of comments like, "You're a quarterback; how can you be a strength coach?" I didn't listen to any of it, because the most important thing to me was being back as part of the San Diego State program."
If Hall initially was uneducated as to Wellman's workings in a weight room, he proved a quick study. While Hoke can be credited with revitalizing the program, the rebuilding of the foundation, it might be argued, was largely accomplished by Wellman.
"He was a vital part (in changing the attitude of the program)," Hall said. "It was a culture change from where the players were before he came. He was like nobody they had ever seen. What he demanded was very different from anything those players had ever done before.
"I learned from him that mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness. What the mind tells you that you can and cannot do is dead-on right. It's all about getting as much as you can out of every single player, and that's what I do." Not that Hall ever believed he'd be doing it. He had been a quarterback, one once nominated for the Davey O'Brien Award, annually presented to the nation's top passer. Becoming a strength coach was as far removed from his radar as a shooting star over Shanghai.
"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "It was never a thought of mine as a player, and when I got into coaching in 2009 it wasn't a thought of mine then, either. But I grew to love it. Everything that (Wellman) said, I ate it up. I soaked everything in, I listened to everything he said and I was with the team all the time.
"There were things that I began to like as a strength coach more than I did on the football side of it. There was more interaction with the players and you could shape their lives more just because you saw them so often."
Aztecs senior center Zach Dilley is one of a handful of players remaining who trained under Wellman before Hall arrived as the program's full-time director of strength and conditioning in 2012.
"Let me say this first: There is only one Aaron Wellman," Dilley said. "He was a fiery guy, and that's putting it lightly. But Coach Hall is a close second. He always has us going at the highest level possible. He's intense. He trains us to never give in and never give up when we get tired. That's the way he is during the offseason or when we're in there during the regular season. There's always a focus of trying to implement toughness."
Said Hall: "I make it very clear to the players that I don't care if they like me as long as they respect me. Now, hopefully, more of them like me than don't, but it's not my job to be their friend. It's my job to make them tougher and better football players. The most important part of my job is making 105 guys from completely different backgrounds believe in the same idea. And that idea is to win every single football game. If guys buy into the program that I have they will become stronger and they will become better."
The proof is in the progress. During Hall's time at SDSU, the Aztecs posted a combined mark of 13-23, with the team's record of 6-6 in 2003 being the only non-losing season between 1999 and 2009. After enduring non-winning seasons that persisted during the tenure of three U.S. presidents, SDSU has been to a program-record four consecutive bowl games and posted four consecutive seasons of at least eight wins.
"The only thing I compare at the end of the day is wins and losses, and these guys win a lot more often than we did," said Hall, who has become so enamored with his career as a strength and conditioning coach that he claims to have no desire to assume the role of a position coach. "Without comparing past staffs, I think it's completely different here. There is a demand for success now at San Diego State, and I think the basketball program has had a huge hand in that. We feed off of each other. Coach (Steve) Fisher and his staff have built a great basketball program and that's where we want our football team to be.
"There's a demand for winning now. We do not accept losing. Losing is not OK for us anymore."