Alabama football is the colossus of college football.
After a largely disappointing stretch between 1995 and 2007, Bama has ripped off eleven straight seasons of 10-plus wins and five national titles. They’ll have a chance to make it six national titles in the past twelve seasons on Monday, Jan. 7.
Although Nick Saban gets most of the credit for the team’s turnaround, another man deserves a significant share of that credit—Scott Cochran, the team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach (his official title is Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning). While the cameras are trained on Saban during game day, it is Cochran who spends thousands of hours developing the players into finely-tuned football machines.
Cochran came in when Saban took over in 2007. Here’s what you need to know about the man behind the athletic monsters of Alabama football.
He’s Totally Nuts
Cochran is as intense as they come. He constantly barks orders and encouragement to his players, so much that his voice has become permanently hoarse. Most of Alabama’s players tower over Cochran, but no one can match his energy. Although the instruction he offers is critical, the enthusiasm he brings every single day cannot be overvalued.
“In my job somebody’s got to bring the energy,” Cochran told AL.com. “You want the players to be a certain type of way. Well, you have to be that way first, so if I can set the tempo, I’m going to do it.”
While Cochran may seem like a chaotic ball of fire, he knows each player needs to be pushed in different ways, because each player wants to achieve different things. “If you want to get their best, you have to know what they want,” Cochran says. “Knowing them is half the battle.”
He Trains to Dominate the Fourth Quarter
Alabama’s philosophy is simple—train to physically dominate opponents. That means they aim to be bigger, stronger, faster and better conditioned than any of the guys who line up across from them. Failure in the fourth quarter is considered a sign of mental and physical inferiority.
“There is no rocket science behind it, it’s just hard work. Coach Saban wants us to be a fast, physical, dominant team. He wants us to be in better shape than the opposition in the fourth quarter. That’s the way he coaches—intensely focusing on being perfect in every way—so we have to get the [players] ready for that,” Cochran told STACK. “You do heavy legs, and then you go try and run. We start off light, and the program builds, so the guys have to become tougher. So when it comes to the game, they are climbing the mountain; and as they go, they get better and better.”
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Performance during the fourth quarter is considered so critical at Alabama that the team’s off-season conditioning program carries its name. The infamous “4th Quarter Program” has remained largely unchanged since Saban brought it to Alabama over a decade ago. It entails four days a week of lung-busting workouts, which include a mixture of long-distance running, short-distance running, agility drills, mat drills and speed development drills. One workout may largely consist of 16 110-yard sprints with a 45-second rest between reps. Each 4th Quarter Program session lasts precisely 60 minutes.
He Emphasizes Technique Over Strength
Alabama’s hardcore approach might lead you to believe they value crushing heavy weight over everything else, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Cochran believes proper technique lays the crucial foundation for meaningful progress, so he has every player re-train the basics on a regular basis.
“Everyone who walks in the door, even Mark Ingram, starts the same way. We start everybody off super light when introducing the weight room,” Cochran says. “For example, look at one of the first lifts we do, Clean Pulls. All they are doing is 100 to 135 pounds. Now that is the entire team, not just the freshmen. You can be a fifth-year senior, and we are still going to start back with technique, because to me, if you can concentrate on and use proper technique, the amount of weight you are going to be able to move is going to be higher.”
Every single Alabama football player has a strong foundation of technique, which allows him to progress further and faster than their competition.
He Never Lets You Bend Over—Ever
During a recent interview with Origins Originals, Cochran revealed that Alabama players are never, ever allowed to bend over from fatigue. Putting your hands on your head isn’t acceptable, either, as that’s become a universal sign of exhaustion.
“You’re not allowed to ever bend over. It’s a mindset more than anything. There is a physiological aspect to it—because if I’m hunched over, I’m closing up my breathing ways. I’m closing up the lungs, the diaphragm, even my throat—it’s getting closed up.”
“So everyone always says put your hands on your head. Hands on your head, stand up tall, get as much air in (as you can). Another side of that, as the program has gone on, is we try to coach them up not to put their hands on their head, either. Because you’re showing weakness there, too. In Coach Saban’s mind, if you’re bent over, your opponent is licking their chops. ‘Oh I’ve got him now. I’ve got him exhausted. I can get him now!’. Our goal is to never show that weakness. The best part about it is when the guys learn that, they find out when they’re 30 or 40 years old and they’ve gone through this program, that they do their best not to even yawn when they’re at work.”
He Believes More Muscle Mass Equals More Speed
Bama players who need put on weight down about 8,000 calories a day, so many leave Tuscaloosa significantly heavier than when they arrived.
Some athletes worry that gaining muscle mass might ultimately cost them speed. Doesn’t it make sense that a 200-pound person would move faster than a 225-pound person? That sounds right in theory, but it’s not necessarily true. Cochran knows that if his players gain good lean muscle mass, they’ll have no problem getting faster as they get bigger.
“If you weigh 185 pounds now, don’t worry about being 200 pounds and putting fat on your body. Muscle will gain you weight. If you are gaining weight properly, you will be able to move faster, be more explosive and be able to knock people around,” Cochran says.
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Cochran’s players are living proof that his theory works. Take Amari Cooper, for example.
Now an NFL Pro Bowl receiver, Cooper came to Alabama in 2012 as a lanky 6-foot-1, 175-pound prospect. For the next three seasons, he trained under Cochran, blossoming into college football’s top wideout. By the end of his college career, he had gained nearly 40 pounds of muscle. At the 2015 NFL Combine, Cooper ran a 4.42 40-Yard Dash at 211 pounds.
Alabama Realizes Exactly How Valuable He Is
Cochran is not a household name on the same level of Saban, but Alabama knows how valuable he is to their success. In response to recent attempts by Georgia to woo Cochran away, Alabama significantly increased his salary. Cochran now earns $585,000, which is more than many head football coaches in the Mid-American, Sun Belt and C-USA conferences.
“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,” Saban said of Cochran in a press release.
With Cochran sticking around for the foreseeable future, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to recede any time soon.
Photo Credit: Michael Chang/Getty Images, Scott Donaldson/Getty Images, Michael Wade/Getty Images