Strength at home

3-15-04, 4:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals didn't have to look very far when they rounded out their 2004 coaching staff with the hiring of Ray Oliver as their assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Oliver, 42, grew up in the shadow of Riverfront Stadium in downtown Cincinnati and played football at Ohio State before going on to coach under some of the biggest names in college football and basketball. He returns after spending the last three seasons as Director of Performance Enhancement for the University of Memphis basketball program under John Calipari.

He also worked basketball for Rick Pitino at the University of Kentucky, football for Mike Gottfried at Kansas, and basketball for Calipari at the University of Pittsburgh and then the New Jersey Nets of the NBA.

"The Bengals are going to get everything I've got. They're my team," said Oliver, who grew up near the West End, attended Withrow and Taft high schools, and worked at Bengals' minicamps and training camps breaking into the game.

"I stopped being a Browns fan when the Bengals came in 1968. My favorites were Paul Robinson and Greg Cook, and then, later on Cris Collinsworth," he said.

One of his favorites is also Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton, a friend since 1987 when he worked at Pitt and Morton worked at Penn State.

"But (Joe) Paterno wouldn't let us be friends," said Oliver of the Penn State football coach. "We overcame that through mutual friends. We always wanted to work together, but our careers always seemed to be going parallel."

The lure of home, the Bengals, and Marvin Lewis was enough for Oliver. He got a taste of the NFL the past two seasons with a minority internship with the Carolina

Panthers, and it turned into some extra work during the season on the defensive side of the ball. He went to the Super Bowl with the Panthers last month to help a staff that came within a minute of the first Super Bowl overtime.

"You want to be a part of history and we're going to win a Super Bowl here," Oliver said. "I knew five years ago that Marvin Lewis was going to be a head coach."

Morton said Oliver's strengths are conditioning, nutrition, and an experience with others sports that Morton doesn't have.

"He's dealt with a lot of big men in college and the NBA, and he's become kind of a specialist with the lower back and the problems big men can have with that and that will be a big help here," Morton said. "He's done a lot of recruiting and is obviously good at it. Look at the coaches he's worked for. Tough. Demanding. Exacting. And they all can't say enough about him, and that says a lot about him."

Oliver also worked under former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche in 1992 in Tampa Bay.

He transferred from Ohio State to the University of Cincinnati and while sitting out the 1982 season under transfer rules, he became interested in strength training under Gottfried, then the UC head football coach. When Gottfried moved to Kansas University in 1983, Oliver decided to end his football playing career and followed Gottfried to KU as a transfer student and volunteer coach. Oliver earned his bachelor's degree from Kansas in 1984.

Oliver worked in strength and conditioning at Pitt in the mid-1980s, and during that time he also worked a Bengals training camp and several Bengals minicamps as a volunteer assistant to then-strength coach Kim Wood.

Oliver's work with NFL athletes also includes the years 1997-99, when he was involved in programs for 35 NFL players while working for the Synergy company in Columbia, S.C.

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