Savage gives Gator conditioning program a lift

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Head Gator Football Coach Dan Mullen, left, and strength coach Nick Savage. [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Gainesville magazine.

The sounds of the band Creed are blaring through the loudspeakers in the Florida weight room. This isn’t for a team workout. Instead, members of the University Athletic Association staff are getting their lifts in.

“I have a whole different music playlist when the players are on here,” said Nick Savage. “I like to see how they respond to certain music.”

The 28-year old Savage has been given the task of delivering a different looking Florida football team to Dan Mullen when the Gators get back on the practice field.

His techniques may be different than his predecessor’s, but it’s not like he is re-inventing the wheel.

“We keep it simple,” he said.”We’re not doing things differently than anyone else in the country.

“But we’re going to do things the right way. Accountability and discipline are always tough for an individual. But every kid wants to be great. We have to give them the guidance.”

It started on the first day when the Florida players reported before dark for their first workout with Savage. He ran them on a 2.5-mile jaunt through campus with four stops along the way.

Lunges here, sit-ups there.

“You get to see who can step up and lead,” Savage said. “It was a good day one to break them in. Some guys did better than others, but no negatives.”

Savage has made a meteoric rise up the ranks ever since he was promoted to head strength and conditioning coach at Mississippi State in 2016. When Mullen took the job at Florida, Savage knew he was moving to Gainesville.

“Before I even got the job, he knew he was part of the team that was going wherever I went,” Mullen said. “He is one of the most important people on the staff. It’s such a critical role, almost a second head coach.

“He understands what we need in the program and he drives himself to get better.”

Savage has a plan that began with a shift in the culture. At Mississippi State, he simply tweaked what was already being done under the previous strength coach.

“Here, everything was new to the them,” Savage said. “The way we act and dress and speak. The number one thing you attack is the culture. I’m not saying anything was bad but we needed to get them to understand coach’s culture.

“We’re a spoke in the wheel, we’re a slice of the pie. In my eyes, my slice of the pie is very big. Myself and my staff, were going to exhaust all resources to give these guys the best of what they deserve.”

And the culture isn’t only to be able to lift a lot of weight. Savage wants something more.

“I try to create this umbrella, a comprehensive program and how can I produce the best athlete I can put on the field,” he said. “We have to make sure of that.

“Everybody thinks — bigger, faster, stronger. But the one thing people, overlook is movement. You can have big, strong athletes without the best movement patterns.

“I don’t want powerlifters and strongmen. We’re training football players.”

What he found here in Gainesville was a group that wanted to get better. Stories circulated after the previous regime was let go that players were going off campus for workouts because they didn’t feel they were getting enough out of the program.

In other words, they had no trouble buying in. They just needed someone to take them there.

“The biggest thing is their hunger factor,” Savage said. “They want to be coached. They want to be pushed. My style is I want to push your buttons and see how you respond. That’s the way it is in life.

“When things get hard, have you been trained appropriately to respond in the right manner.”

21 COMMENTS

  1. It is unconscionable that players had to go off campus to get a good workout in the last regime! Can you imaging that at Bama?
    No, you can’t.
    I am hoping Savage’s problem will make us tougher and more conditioned for the fourth quarter, and that we will have fewer injuries. I don’t think the crummy program we were under before and our large injury total during that time are unrelated.

    • I suspect that it will, Steve — really will in a big way. One of the not often mentioned byproducts of an A+ strength and conditioning program is also improved mental agility and processing…..which should help an awful lot too when things not only get tough, but reduced frequency of missed assignments as well.

      • Excellent point. The body is a box to carry the brain around, and if it is in poor shape the mind will be as well. Savage is clearly focused on performance and the ways the gym can improve that physically and mentally.

    • If the injuries lesson we can chalk that to two things. Fitness and play calling. The first is obvious the second if the players are taught play execution they won’t be caught in as many positions to get hurt.

  2. Passion makes all the difference. This is a guy clearly committed to his mission. In my experience, in any given field you can find many people who possess the knowledge required in their profession, but the ones who excel love what they are doing and transfer that passion to those around them.

  3. I will never forget Bobby Fischer’s comment the the real reason he beat Boris Spassky: “I was in better shape than hie was.” That was in 1972 and, for me, forever proved that physical conditioning was the touchstone of mental toughness, Simply stated, when you are tired you can’t think clearly.

  4. I really liked the comments on movement. I suspect someone there also is working on getting our athletes into a state of flow …I remember the new York Giants qb Phil Simms finding it one time in a super bowl one time and just destroying the competition. I look forward to seeing us get there and staying there.

  5. Like the sentiment, but this is a weak story. Who is Savage? What’s his training? How does he motivate? How is he different from the previous regime? With the problems Maryland is facing in regards to motivating football players, this story could have gone a long way toward revealing how Savage is different from, or similar to, other programs. Instead, we get platitudes like “a spoke in the wheel” and “we’re training football players.” This appeared in Gainesville magazine? I would think that would warrant more depth.

  6. I recently watched last year’s Bama vs. MSU game and I was struck by the fact that MSU, for three and one half quarters, was the more physical team. But MSU did not have the kind of depth to win that game (barely lost) in the end. But I watched the MSU players knock Bama players backwards and in the mouth for most of that game. It was impressive to watch. Gator Nation has not seen a Florida team do that in several years, and not even when playing teams like North Texas. And I still remember Georgia Southern dominating Florida physically. I expect this team will express their physical Savage will and dominance on Charleston Southern on September 1, starting with quarter one.

  7. And how about…………………SAVAGE TIME…….on third downs this year……to replace……MONEY DOWN…..this year???? UF… get the boosters to pay for “SAVAGE TIME”…..banners for fans this year. Print them with a blue background and SAVAGE TIME in orange with a white border.

  8. You would think someone who spent four years on Alabama’s staff would understand the importance of the S&C program. Maybe the last “head coach” was spending too much time on sharkloversonly.com to pay attention to how bad the program was being run.