Oliver takes Kentucky job

Posted Jan 29, 2010

Posted: 11:15 a.m.

Bengals associate strength coach Ray “Rock” Oliver, one of the key players in the comeback story of wide receiver Chris Henry and the progress of rookie right tackle Andre Smith at the end of this past season, has been named the director of performance at the University of Kentucky in charge of the Wildcats strength and conditioning program.

Oliver, 48, a Cincinnati native who graduated from Taft High School and played at the University of Cincinnati, joined his hometown team in 2004 after stints in the NBA, the NFL and college. He returns to Lexington 18 years after he helped head coach Rick Pitino revive the Wildcats basketball program.

It is also a reunion with current Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. Oliver has worked with him in the college game at Memphis, Kansas and Pittsburgh as well as the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

“Coach Pitino always said he wanted assistants that wanted to be head coaches,” Oliver said Thursday. “It’s a great opportunity at a place I love and my family is excited about going back. I’m going to Lexington to help (head football coach) Joker Phillips win an SEC championship and work again with one of my best friends in Coach Cal.”

But leaving the Bengals is a difficult chore for Oliver, who became one of the more popular Paul Brown Stadium figures with an unrelenting cutting sense of humor that could both break tension and motivate players.

“My relationship with the owner and the head coach is what makes this an emotional move for me,” Oliver said. “I can’t tell you how much Marvin Lewis means to me because of the opportunity he gave me here and the ability to work with him. The Bengals gave me a great chance to work for the team I’ve loved all my life and I learned a lot working with (head strength coach) Chip Morton. Not many people in this building can talk about Speedy Thomas and Glenn Cameron, but this was my team growing up.”

Oliver, along with Bengals director of security Rusty Guy and director of player development Eric Ball, helped get Henry’s life and career back on track after three NFL suspensions and a release plummeted him into oblivion. Henry’s Dec. 17 death in a pickup truck accident during his second season back with the team still has Oliver reeling.

“One guy believed he could do it, that he could make it, and that was Mike Brown,” said Oliver of the Bengals president. “I still don’t think I’ve really come to grips with it. I miss him. I just took a picture of his locker. And I’m going to tell you what. He was going to make it.”

Oliver’s departure leaves a second opening on Lewis’ staff. There is already a search for an assistant offensive line coach to replace Bob Surace, the new head coach at Princeton University.


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