It is 5:00 pm and new strength coach "Big" John Williams notices there are 20 players in the Anderson Football Complex putting in additional work. Some are there to get some extra stretching in. Others show up to meet with nutritionist Randy Bird to go over their eating plan one more time and a few are there just simply to chat with Williams. Whatever their reasons may be, the fact is that they're there, which gives Williams hope that the players are buying into his system.
"A couple of players told me that they haven't seen a group of coaches excited as us to be with them," Williams said.
Talk to different Kansas players and staff, and they will tell you that a new environment is being created at the football facility these days. One that is more positive and entices players to stay long after they have been required to be there.
Williams calls the workout area in the lower level of the football facility "The Compound": a place where players can forget about the stresses of the outside world and throw themselves fully into the game of football.
So for now, 20 players doing extra is fine, but Williams looks for that number to grow in the future.
"Just come here anytime of the day and you should be able to find somebody," Williams said.
Not that the old staff didn't have a handful of players that went above and beyond the call of duty, but senior cornerback Chris Harris said the number of players staying after to put in extra work is the highest he's seen since he has been here. Part of the reason is now that every player is starting from scratch, there is a sense of competition to jump to the top of pecking order to impress the new regime. Nobody wants to be left behind. But Harris also said the welcoming feeling that has encompassed the program has resonated well with the players.
"It definitely makes you want to stick around there more," Harris said. "It sucks that this is my last year but at least I can say I was here for the beginning of it."
Beginning is the key word. It's been over a month since Williams was handed the keys to the Kansas strength and conditioning program by new coach Turner Gill, and a lot of work still lies ahead. Williams has big visions for the direction he wants his program to go. Sure, he wants to create a system that produces superior athletes that can compete for a conference championship, but he also wants something deeper than that. On his desk his Bible is flipped open to the book of Genesis. Williams is reading the story of Joseph. Like Kansas coach Turner Gill, Williams' religious faith is what makes him tick.
"Coach Gill and I believe that The Bible gives you the path of decision making in your life and we use that to mold these young guys and build character," Williams said. "Most people miss on the intangibles of character in the game and understanding the purpose of going out there hard and encouraging each other. We tie all that into the why and get the results."
The ability to help and communicate with players year round as opposed to dealing with the regulated restrictions that a normal position coach has to face is the reason why Williams became a strength coach in the first place.
"As a player sometimes, I felt like I needed somebody there sometimes to clear things up for me in my college experience. Just something that you can't call home to mama for and your friend isn't there for you and you need a person who has been there, done that, and that is sort of the position that I take," Williams said. "I keep my door open to these guys because it gets tough."
That mindset is what drew Williams to Kansas. Williams was living a comfortable life as the strength coach at Baylor when Gill called him in early December to ask him about taking the Kansas job. Williams accepted without even taking a trip to Lawrence to take a tour of the facility or to meet with the rest of the staff. The chance to work with Gill was all that he needed.
"Coach Gill has a great reputation for character and success going all the way back to playing through coaching in Buffalo," Williams said. " Everywhere you go you hear great things about his plan and his process. You attach that to Lew Perkins, who has a track record of success, leadership and a direct vision for what he wants the results to be. It fits for me because I am the same type of guy. I came here to mold young men then when I got here I saw the facilities and resources that were available to our young people - it was just a no brainer concept."
Williams has a wide base of strength coaches around the country to collaborate with. Williams got his start at North Carolina in the late 1990's under then strength coordinator Jeff Madden, who would go on to become one of the most respected names in the industry. As Williams moved up in the coaching world, he would go on to work with skilled coaches such as Boyd Epley and many others. To this day, they still provide a sounding board for Williams to bounce new ideas off of.
"For some reason, I was always taken in by those guys and just sat with my mouth closed and listened to their words and knowledge," Williams said. "I just have a list of guys who have molded me into who I am today. Then you take what you learn and adapt it to your circumstances."
At Kansas, Williams has only been with the players for less than a month, but they are slowly grasping his system. Williams calls it SOUP - System Of Unlimited Performance. Currently the team is in its unity phase, which means they are split into two large groups and everybody is doing the same core lifts based on the same percentages. As they progress over the spring and into the summer, they will separate into individual positions and do more sport similar training for their specific needs.
The players are already noticing the difference in coaching philosophies between Williams and previous strength coach Chris Dawson.
"To start off, we did a lot more running under coach Dawson, but right now we are focusing on lifting and getting a lot more bigger," cornerback Chris Harris said.
When the players reported back to Lawrence earlier last month, Williams saw the challenges that were ahead of him. It had been almost two months since Kansas' last game of the 2009 season against Missouri, and Williams said he wasn't initially impressed with the physical condition of the returning players.
"When we did our conditioning test to get some baseline numbers, they were in holiday shape," Williams said. "Every school in the nation has the same thing regardless if a change occurred. They go home for three to four weeks and they are relaxing. That is what they need to do because it is a year round machine. They don't get that exhale time. We aren't overly harsh of them but we demanded a lot out of them to see them push themselves and they did a great job."
Williams said his desire is to have the players training regimen have the feel of an intense practice during the season. The coaches walk around with timers and whistles and they manipulate recovery time to be less than 40 seconds, just like it would during an actual game. Players do a series of lifts and running drills in short increments.
"Rarely do you have players sitting around looking at each other," Williams said. "When I blow the whistle your feet are moving. We call it organized chaos."
"It is a little different than some people's approach but it has been very successful for this coaching staff in the different places we have coached."
While Williams is still learning names and faces, one position group has already jumped out ahead of the pack. Late last season, the young offensive line started to jell under the previous coaching staff and showed they could potentially be one of the top groups in the Big 12. They have carried that momentum into the offseason.
"All of my offensive linemen have given me tremendous effort in their intentness of preparation," Williams said. "That position group as a whole has been the standout group. They are really getting after it and they have some good leadership in that group too."
Williams also made a point to praise sophomore quarterback Kale Pick. The possible heir apparent to the starting quarterback position has set the tone during workouts.
"He is an action leadership guy," Williams said. "He isn't a rah-rah guy and we are not into that either. We just want guys who get their work done and that is the type of guy he is."
Spring ball doesn't start for another month, and while Williams wants to see more progress - not to mention more kids show up for extra work - he knows that the trust between the players and coaches will continue to develop through time.
"We don't change," Williams said. "We are the same guys all the time. If you see us at church, or at the grocery store, we don't change. I think kids are like animals and they have a sense for that type of deal. They just know good people. They feel like we are good people because every time they see us we are the same guys. That consistency builds trust and that works pretty fast."