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.”