Among many of his innovations, Paul Brown hired the NFL's first full-time strength coach.
It’s been nearly 40 years since Kim Wood got a late night phone call from Pete Brown, the Bengals vice president for player personnel.
“My dad wants you down at the stadium at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning,” Brown told a very stunned Wood. “He just hired you as strength coach.”
Wood, then 29, didn’t even know he was under consideration. But he happily accepted the job from Bengals founder Paul Brown that made him the NFL’s first full-time assistant coach in charge of strength. After several years as a free agent setting up programs for such head coaches as Brown, Don Coryell in St. Louis, Lou Saban in Buffalo, Mike McCormack in Philadelphia, and Dick Nolan in San Francisco, Wood now had the title he had already worn.
Coach. Not guru or medicine man or drug go-fer.
“He was my friend and he was one of my coaches,” Wood says. “Even after he died I told people I still worked work for Paul Brown.”
There are too many stories to tell in one sitting. Wood remembers how PB would always kid around with him. Even three months before he died at age 82, when Wood held a door for him and PB playfully pushed him into the door.
Or that first season on the staff, 1975, and he ended up having lunch with him once a week.
“He’d give me a half of his sandwich,” Wood says, “and showed me how they did the offense and defense.”
Maybe Brown made the hire because one of his original Bengals coaches, Lions head coach Rick Forzano, had called the Bengals looking to hire Wood himself. Or maybe, as Wood suspects, it was because of what happened in 1974.
“They had a bad year,’ says Wood of the Bengals 7-7 season that came on the heels of a 10-4 run. “He saw it as something that was going to happen at some point. And he felt that not only would it help make them better players, but lifting weights would make them more durable.
“PB was cutting edge in everything that he did,” Wood says of a time there were only six or eight Bengals lifting weights. “I listened to every word he said. Every word he spoke to the team, there was a reason for it. The bottom line is the guy was common sense and giving people a square deal, as he’d call it …His big thing was being a professional. Heck, he invented pro football. I saw my job as being a professional, how to take care and develop your body.”
It is that common sense that is driving Wood’s fourth annual Football Strength Clinic this weekend at the Pallet 23 Event Space, 3932 Spring Grove in Cincinnati. Pre-registration on footballstrength.com for Football Strength Clinic #4 has already drawn about 200 coaches at $25 a pop for both sessions, this Friday at 7 p.m. and this Saturday at 9 a.m.
Since Wood left the Bengals a decade ago, he has stayed in Cincinnati while immersing himself in making the game safer in the new century by focusing on the fundamentals from the last one. He has formed a kitchen cabinet that is a cross-section of football strength pioneers like himself and newcomers such as Doug Scott, a New Jersey strength coach leading the charge on neck and head training on the high school and middle school level.
Wood’s message is that training of the neck, jaw, and head has to become a priority because it can dramatically cut down concussions and brain injury since the strength of those three body parts can cushion the blow and act as a natural pad for the brain.
It’s not a universally accepted message in a society seduced by the torso, where pecs, abs, and pipes get all the attention. But give Wood time because his clinic keeps growing and so does the effort to protect the head.
“It’s common sense information. There’s no room for mumbo jumbo,” Wood says with PBian bluntness. “You have to prepare people for a level of violence. We all love football. But it’s a violent game, so you have to use your noodle and elbow grease to prepare your people and cut down the risk in protecting your players.”
Protecting players has become a crusade of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but Wood remembers under Brown how it was an accepted part of the game.
“He had an hour and 10-minute practices with no hitting,” says Wood in amazement. “We know there were coaches that were brutalizing players in practice and they were tired going into Sunday. P.B. expected you to work hard, but I never got the sense that he used up players.”
Back in the drug-infested ‘70s, Wood found himself as one of the lone public apostles against steroids and had a willing partner in Brown. Brown was dead set against drugs of any kind in the locker room, much to Wood’s great relief.
“I was not going to be a drug go-fer, which was the situation in many places,” Wood says of the football strength world circa Studio 54. “PB wanted to know about the drugs and I sat down and told him. And he told me, ‘We are not going to be doing any of that stuff here.’ And he always backed me up on it. Not just Paul, but Mike (Brown) and Pete, too. His big thing was the double win. You work your butt off to win, but win the right way.”
So that’s part of this weekend’s message, too. “You don’t need drugs to get strong and you don’t need drugs to play football.”
Wood is concerned about the human growth hormone issue since the NFL and the NFL Players Association have yet to agree on HGH testing.
Asked if HGH causes the same problems as steroids (cancer, infertility, liver disease, heart attacks, strokes, rage), Wood raises a new modern specter of drug dealing by a click on the internet, “People think so but nobody is sure what it does to your body. You’re moving into the Twilight Zone as far as bad drugs and bad effects on people.”
Ted Lambrinides, a long-time Wood disciple who has coached in the weight rooms of Ohio State and the University of Kentucky, talks this weekend on the dangers of drugs and its counterfeits. Wood also turns to the only strength coach Bo Schembechler ever had at Michigan, Mike Gittleson, who knows as much about the neck as a neurologist.
But Wood is also calling on young guys such as Scott and the University of Buffalo’s Gregory Pyszczynski, who has taken his experience in head and neck training north from Eastern Michigan. The outline that Brown sketched for Wood that morning he met him at the stadium could have been the outline for Football Strength Clinic #4.
“What we’re doing at the clinic is a Paul Brown gut check,’ Wood says. “You go back to the basics. You see what you’re doing.”