During the Marvin Lewis years the Paul Brown Stadium weight room became known by insiders as “The Boiler Room,” poetically capturing the anonymity and importance of the place as the engine setting the team’s pulse. This week Joey Boese took command of the Boiler Room, where the preface is to be written in new Bengals head coach Zac Taylor’s plan for an everyone-on-the-same-page culture.
That’s why Taylor turned to Boese, a long-time colleague and friend that has won his trust with a gym-rat mentality befitting a line-em-up Big Ten safety that kept him on the football field until 27 before dragging him into the Nebraska weight room. Eleven years later Boese has his first NFL gig, but he comes from a three-year stint running Super Bowl head coach Lovie Smith’s University of Illinois weight room.
“I’m here to implement the culture Zac wants and that’s important because the first exposure is in the weight room,” said Boese, whose boiler alarm goes off April 1 when the players report for off-season workouts.
Boese, 38, has three years on Taylor, but there’s a lot of common ground between them. Both were more brainy than brawny as big-school players before heading to Canada to play with Taylor quarterbacking Nebraska in 2005 and 2006 and Boese starting at all four secondary spots for Wisconsin at the turn of the century.
Taylor didn’t make it in the CFL but Boese survived four seasons in Calgary, where he may be the only Bengals assistant ever to make a CFL all-star team with a berth on the West Division after his second season. They knew each other before kids and now seven babies later (the Taylors had four, the Boeses three) there’s a lot more invested than dreams.
They met in 2007 at Nebraska, back in the pre-historic days before the colleges had quality control titles for coaches. But that’s basically what Boese was doing on defense as a video intern and Taylor was doing on offense as a graduate assistant after Tampa Bay cut him. A few weeks later Taylor was gone to try the CFL, but they ended up as some of the Nebraska guys that went to Texas A&M the next year, Boese as the assistant strength coach and Taylor as a G.A., and then tight ends coach.
When A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter got the head job at Fresno State, he took Boese with him as his head strength coach and he was there for four years before Lovie Smith called. That was the second time Smith called Boese. A few years before he called about the assistant’s job, but the time wasn’t right because the Boeses just had their first child and things were good at Fresno.
“I like his aggressiveness, his intelligence, the way he communicates,” Boese said of the draw to Taylor. “We’ve been good friends since A&M and when he called, I knew that was the guy I wanted to go work for, the kind of family man he is and the kind of football coach he is. I know he’ll have success here at the Bengals.”
Boese cuts a lonely figure in the boiler room these days waiting for an assistant as well as a sports scientist and maybe an analytics staffer. Nowadays, an NFL strength program is as much about data as diligence. He and Taylor are still working on the structure, but a good road map for what they plan can be seen in Ted Rath’s strength room with the Rams.
Rath, 35, is a major figure in how head coach Sean McVay turned around Los Angeles and Taylor figures to have been taking exhaustive notes during the two years of the program that included Rath’s fellow NFL strength and conditioning coaches voting him coach of the year in 2017. A heavy sports science element tied into the training room and rehab helped get the Rams back into contention.
It’s a program not unlike what Boese’s predecessor built in Cincinnati when Chip Morton brought the boiler room into cyberspace with an extensive GPS system. And the data just keeps multiplying.
“In the 14 years I’ve been in it, it’s amazing how strength and conditioning has just taken off and changed,” Boese said. “We have to use every bit of information out there and we’ve got to get it to the coaches as quickly as possible, whether it’s getting the players ready for training camp or a week of practice to make sure on Sunday we have a fresh team.
“There are some differences between college and the National Football League, obviously. But there are a lot of similarities in the weight room and how we’re going to train guys.”
Boese is still looking at it like a player even though there is some dust on that last CFL snap. Before he gives the players a program, he likes to go through it himself to get a sense what it does to the legs and body.
That’s what drew him to the strength room instead of the film room. The physicality. The workouts. There’s no question he could have coached. After starting at strong safety for Wisconsin as a junior, he got moved back to corner during the next spring when Jamar Fletcher was drafted in the first round and then just before the season started he had to move into free safety.
“I knew what everyone was supposed to do,” Boese said. “But watching five hours of film a day didn’t really appeal to me. I like the physical part of it.”
Morton was a huge factor when Lewis turned the Bengals culture around in 2003. After spending that first month in the new off-season program, the players were ready to embrace what Lewis had waiting for them in the “New Dey,” on the field. Boese welcomes that same crucial role.
“There will be a different approach. It’s a new time and a new culture we’re going to set,” Boese said. “Not only in the weight room but for the whole organization. Holding everyone to the same high standard. That will start in the weight room, the training sessions, OTAs, training camp and on into the season.”
He also likes the iron Taj Mahal Morton built. Boese’s feet crunched on the turf and he looked down and smiled. It was like the turf on the field in Calgary when they played a post-season game in single-digit temperatures.
“It has all the tools we need,” said Boese as the Boiler Room heats up. “From a size standpoint, this facility is very impressive. With the turf and the ability to do some different things on it and the racks, we have all the tools we need to be successful.”