Hopefully you read the feature on Georgia Tech’s new director of player development (read: strength and conditioning coach) John Sisk. There were a few notes and thoughts that I couldn’t fit into the story that I thought you might be interested in.
1. His background: played at Western Carolina (Paul Johnson’s alma mater), three years as a high school coach, at Furman for two years as an assistant, then Western Carolina to become the head strength coach, then five years as an assistant at Clemson, then Vanderbilt for nine years, the first eight under Bobby Johnson.
He interviewed with James Franklin when he was hired at Vanderbilt, but was not retained. He went back to Furman as the head strength coach for a year and then was hired at Tech.
The fact that he was hired back at Furman suggests that a) he got results; b) people liked working with him. From what I gather about him, I’d say they’re both true.
2. Sisk didn’t have a connection with Johnson prior to the job. Bobby Johnson put in a word with Paul Johnson on his behalf. The two coaches know each other from their days coaching against each other in the Southern Conference, Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern and Bobby Johnson at Furman.
Said Bobby Johnson, “We used to go to those (league) meetings together. I’ve got a lot of respect for Paul. He does a great job of coaching his team. I’m glad those two hooked up.
His recommendation regarding Sisk:
“I said (to Paul Johnson), ‘You can get as involved as you want with your strength program, but you don’t have to worry about it once John Sisk takes over,” Bobby Johnson said. “He’s going to do a great job over it and he’s going to tell you everything that’s happening.”
3. Sisk wants players operating at a high tempo in the weight room.
“We’ve got two rules: You don’t sit down and you don’t bend over,” he said. “You try to keep music up, try to create an atmosphere you want to train in, a high tempo. That’s the way you play. You try to create a football environment as best you can.”
What I think he’s after is intensity and a lively atmosphere. To Bobby Johnson, high tempo meant explosive lifts.
“He’s not going to put a bunch of weight on a guy’s back and have him go slowly up and down,” he said. “He’s going to design exercises where they’re explosive moves and they’re moves that replicate things that you do in football.”
Synjyn Days said that between sets, players are jumping up and down to the music, pumping themselves and each other to lift.
4. As mentioned in the story, he has in the past organized players into teams in the winter and organizes competitions between the teams. Typically, the teams are divided up evenly, with each having linemen, skill-position guys, linebackers and kickers. Sometimes the strength coaches picked the teams, sometimes the football coaches and sometimes the players themselves.
“Obviously, it’s a little bit more fun when the players do it,” Sisk said.
When he was at Furman last year, he got the players together for a draft party and tweeted out the first-round draft picks.
The way he explained it, there were 14 players on a team and, for whatever competition he held (bench press one week, vertical jump the next), they used the 10 best scores from each team, with points awarded for how each team finished. There was a competition for teams and then also position groups.
“Your teammates know how hard you’re working,” Bobby Johnson said. “You can’t just hide. You’re going to be in the spotlight just like the way you are on the field.”
5. I asked Sisk about what makes a superior strength coach. He said communication.
Said Sisk, “I think our staff has to come together and help motivate them, teach them, make them understand what they’re doing and understand what we’re trying to do is help them be the best they can be.”
6. Sisk is a huge proponent of eating properly. “We can train three times a day. If you’re not eating properly, it doesn’t matter how hard you work. You can’t outwork, you can’t out-train, you can’t outplay a bad diet.”
He has been directing players to work with Leah Thomas, who directs Total Person Support Services in the department. Taylor has been taking players to the grocery store to help them understand what to buy and what to avoid.
7. I asked him about cornerback Jemea Thomas, one of the strongest and most dedicated lifters on the team.
“He’s a guy that, down the road, how much more (strength) is he going to need?” Sisk said. “We can’t get him too big. As we see how he does here and (as) he goes into July, we may change some things he’s doing and adjust some things.”
It was something he mentioned a few times over the course of the interview, which made a lot of sense to me. At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns takes over and it doesn’t seem to do much good (and may even risk injury ) to add 10 more pounds to someone’s squat when he already squats plenty.
8. Chris Williams might be Sisk’s greatest success story. Williams came to Vanderbilt a 245-pound offensive lineman and, he said, “I felt I was strong for my size, but I was 245 pounds trying to play offensive tackle.”
Williams said Sisk stayed on him about gaining strength and weight. “Not only gaining weight but gaining good weight,” he said.
Williams, as noted in the story, became a first-round pick.
“He’s got these circuits that he’ll come up with that are pretty close to impossible,” Williams said. “He uses his imagination quite well. He’s a guy that, if you’re willing to buy in, he’ll make you better.”
He praised Sisk for molding workout plans to the individual and for his ability to build relationships with players.
“He’s kind of like an older brother,” Williams said. “We hung out a lot and he was a great guy to be around.”
Something I found telling. Typically when a player is going into the draft, he’ll go work out with a coach who specializes in getting players ready for the draft combine and pro days. This past draft, for instance, Stephen Hill went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. I don’t intent to knock guys who do it. One very valid reason is that college strength guys are already busy with the current players, and also, places like IMG Academy teach guys how to run the 40, not necessarily help them become better football players, which is what they need prior to the draft.
However, Williams chose to stay with Sisk prior to the draft. Among recent first-round picks, I’d say this puts him in the distinct minority. I’m not sure if it says more about Sisk or Williams, but it does show what sort of faith Williams had in Sisk.
“I just felt like I was with this guy who’d been with me,” Williams said. “I’d been training with him a long time.”
9. Players at Tech, it sounds like, have bought in. I talked to Days and T.J. Barnes for the story, and both raved about him. They were careful to not be critical of either Neal Peduzzi or (in Barnes’ case) Eric Ciano – Tech’s past two head strength coaches – but were both really happy about Sisk. Barnes noted how Sisk has been altering workouts for different players and how he has tried to get players motivated.
“We feel like we’ve already won the ACC title in 2009,” Barnes said. “So we’re trying to go for the national (title). He has us thinking on another plateau. There’s a really great vibe out there.”
10. Williams and Johnson both had mentioned how the Vanderbilt weight room became a de facto players lounge because players liked Sisk so much. Days mentioned that the other day he did exactly that, went to the Tech weight room to strength and hang out with Sisk.
“I love him,” Days said. “He’s a great man.”
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog