St. Louis Rams: 'Rock' Solid?



The wiki-definition of a strength and conditioning coach is:

‘A fitness professional who uses exercise prescription specifically to improve performance in athletic competition. Strength coaches also help athletes with injury prevention and proper mechanics within their sports performances.’

Wait...They do what? For a moment I thought that my spell check had auto-corrected the description. "Injury prevention," eh? Digging deeper, and thinking that maybe we only had a strength coach who paid no mind to the conditioning aspect of the job description, I found Rock Gullickson. For a closer look at the man who should’ve been spotting Rodger Saffold, take a jump....into the rehab pool

Gullickson started his career at Montana State University as a strength and conditioning coach in 1984, where they won the Division 1-AA National Championship. His pro career, however, didn’t begin until 2006, when he was selected by Mike McCarthy to serve as the strength coach for the Green Bay Packers. His hiring came with great praise from the new head coach. ‘Our players are the organization's most important investment," McCarthy said:

"They already have some of the finest resources and traditions in all of sports, but they also need people to equal those standards. Rock is without a doubt one of those people. He's the best person for this job, and I consider this position as important as any on my staff. I've seen first-hand what he can do with professional athletes. Our players will be impressed"


As with most house cleanings, McCarthy’s new regime did what they thought was necessary to turn things around for a struggling franchise (personnel included), and the results were visible almost immediately. As we are with the Rams, the then 4-12 Packers needed change, and were given every reason to be optimistic going into the 2007 season. It would be difficult to gauge whether Rock’s approach to preparing his players for battle had any bearing on their soon-to-be successes, but the Packers improved to 8-8 in 2007, and went to the NFC Championship in 2008, finishing 13-3. One immediate, and later criticized, change Gullickson made was to get rid of the majority of exercise machinery at their facilities and installed workout regimens built mainly around free weights.

Gullickson teaches an explosive, power-lifting style of weight training that is rooted in free weights. The upside is that it incorporates football-functional elements that translate from the weight room to the field. The downside, from what I can gather, is a slightly higher risk of injury compared to using weight machines. Now, I’m not a strength coach, nor am I a bodybuilder. I’m certainly not a football player -- hell, I’ve got a six-pack, but it’s in my refrigerator -- so I can’t begin to tell you the increase in likelihood that an injury would be caused by switching from weight lifting machinery to free weights. What I can tell you though is that the ‘injury bug’ seems to follow Guillickson. Going into week five of the 2009 season, the Packers were dealing with injuries to Aaron Rodgers, James Jones, Chad Clifton, Korey Hall, AJ Hawk, Cullen Jenkins, Atari Bigby, Charles Woodson, Aaron Rouse, and Ryan Pickett . Those injuries, as you might have guessed, lead to a disappointing 2009 season, where their Super Bowl aspirations were squashed as a result of their 6-10 season. Sound familiar? Well, without the Super Bowl part anyway…

Being relieved of his duties after the 2009 season is what brought Rock to St. Louis. Though the Rams may have been high on him, McCarthy’s tune seemed to have changed. Immediately after letting him go, he had this to say about his change of mind on the conditioning coach:

"It's important for everybody that is part of our program to make sure there is growth and improvement, and I did not see that. There is an environment that existed that was not what I was looking for frankly, and that's why it was another tough, difficult change to make, especially on a personal level. But it's a big part of our program. It's a part of our program that needs to improve. We are a young football team, and we need to make the changes. I don't care if we're lifting free weights, flipping tires, or whatever we are doing, but we need to do a better job in there."

Since joining the Rams, it’s easy (especially after last season) to point the finger at the injuries, but there have to be positives, right? Surely there are Rams players that have benefited from his knowledge and experience. Prior to the 2011 season, in a read from the site that you’re currently on, RVB highlighted a quote from Dan Pompeii at National Football Post.

"Former Rams first round pick Chris Long had his best season in 2010, and my peeps with the Rams attribute Long's improvement to his work with strength coach Rock Gullickson. Long improved both his foot quickness and his hand quickness, and it showed in his first step off the snap and his ability to keep blockers' hands off him."

As we know, being a high draft pick comes with a healthy dose of speculation, criticism, and expectations. Chris had a relatively ‘unsexy’ start to his NFL career, but has shown consistent improvement in his game since Gullickson’s arrival to the Rams organization. It’s obvious, though, (and more so gratifying) to see his on-field performance and numbers improve each year. Could this be a byproduct of a great training program, excellent coaching (uh, no), or simply the natural progression of an athlete who’s growing into his role at a professional level?

There are, however, other (former) Rams who disagree Mr. Pompeii. A man who fears no tweet, a fullback near and dear to our hearts, Mike Karney (via Twitter) said shortly after hearing that Fisher and Co. intended on retaining Gullickson and his assistant,

"Bailey (asst. strength and conditioning coach) n Gullickson are cancers to the locker room, Fisher couldn’t get his guy out of Tennessee, it’s a quick fix 4 now."

He provided no reasons as to why, but that’s the great thing about say something that matters for about an hour, with no repercussions as a retiree, and then much like your career, it vanishes. Not until it’s resurrected by yours truly, of course...

Whether it be which players will make the roster, or our potential record for the upcoming season, speculation is running wild. We can only be as good as the quality of the product that we put on the field, and it goes without saying that our ability to stay healthy will play a huge role in our success in the upcoming season. In the back of our minds - and sometimes at the forefront of our discussions - we wonder whether we’ll be ‘healthy.’ Injuries affected even our best players in 2011, as we sat through games with Sam, Steven, and Danny watching from the sidelines. Throw in names like Illinois Mike, Saffold, Fletcher, Bartell, Salas, Harris, and Murphy (amongst others), and you’ve got a serious problem. Again, where does the responsibility lie? I’m not qualified to answer the question, but I’ll pose it to TST. Football is, by nature, a physical and violent sport. Injuries are imminent, but do the Rock Gullickson’s of the world help prevent such an epidemic? Can we place any/some/all of the blame on Rock for the debilitating losses that we incurred last season? Was 2011 a fluke? Are we going to get to a point during the impending season where we again wonder ‘who’s next’? Personally, the injuries that occur off the field bother me much more than the ones that occur during the game. (See: Rodger Saffold) Even still, would a well put together training regimen have prevented some of the injuries we suffered last year? I can’t stomach another TST post containing the words ‘injured reserve list,’ so please tell me there's no way it happens again!

Rams Confidential -- Strength Coach Rock Gullickson (via ramsnflcom)