GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The coaching tree that blossomed under Nick Saban at LSU in the early 2000s has produced several major college football coaches in recent years, including Gators head coach Will Muschamp and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher.
At the root of LSU’s success then and now is strength-and-conditioning coordinator Tom Moffitt, considered a leader in his profession. In a few days LSU and Alabama – now coached by Saban and whose team works under the direction of strength coach Scott Cochran in the weight room – will play for the national title.
Cochran began his career as an understudy of Moffitt’s at LSU. During Muschamp’s time as an LSU assistant from 2000-04, another up-and-coming strength coach named Jeff Dillman helped the Tigers win the 2003 national championship.
Dillman made an impression on Muschamp and when former Gators strength coach Mickey Marotti left last month for Ohio State, it didn’t take Muschamp long to give Dillman a call.
Dillman was officially hired Tuesday as Florida’s new strength-and-conditioning coordinator, not only overseeing the football program but the entire athletic department’s strength-and-conditioning staff.
“The strength coach is such an important part of your program,’’ Muschamp said. “Jeff has a championship pedigree. He’s been a part of several championship teams and that’s what we’re trying to be here at the University of Florida. He is my voice in the weight room when the coaches can’t have contact with the players.
“It’s very important for someone to share the same philosophies and approach as I do on how to build a championship program.”
Dillman has spent the past three years as the head of physical conditioning at the IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, overseeing a staff of 11 full-time trainers, three grad assistants and three interns. Prior to joining IMG Academies, Dillman was strength-and-conditioning coordinator at Appalachian State, helping the Mountaineers win Division I-AA national championships in 2006 and ‘07.
Dillman was there when Appalachian State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history by winning at Michigan in 2007.
His familiarity with Muschamp and their shared philosophies made the move to Florida an easy decision for the 35-year-old Dillman.
“What I like about Coach Muschamp is his intensity and his fire and his directness,’’ Dillman said. “That’s the same way I coach. I believe in coaching kids. I don’t believe in crossing your arms and putting your hands in your pockets. I’m a big, big believer in if you coach them hard in the weight room, and you coach them hard in running, when they get out on that field, it’s easy for them.
“It’s all about eliminating that gray area.’’
Dillman played football at both Elon University and Appalachian State prior to starting his career as a strength coach at Louisiana-Monroe. He later joined Moffitt’s staff at LSU in 2003, working with the men’s and women’s basketball teams, tennis teams, gymnastics, baseball and assisting with the football program.
While there he formed a relationship with Muschamp, LSU’s defensive coordinator at the time.
“I was impressed with his energy and his approach and methods of physical and mental conditioning,’’ Muschamp said. “He stresses toughness and a blue-collar approach and that is what I’m about.’’
At IMG Dillman oversaw a wide range of athletes, ranging from individuals training for a marathon to professional athletes such as tennis star Maria Sharapova, Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto, NFL players Cam Newton, Christian Ponder and Randall Cobb, soccer star Freddy Adu and NBA players Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tyrus Thomas and Michael Beasley.
Trevor Moawad, director of the IMG Performance Institute, said Dillman will make an impact with the Gators the way he did at IMG.
“At the end of the day, passion is important, intensity is important, but you also have to be good at what you do,’’ Moawad said. “I think Jeff has a track record of being able to do that. He certainly did that at the academy. You could have ‘The Bachelor’ in training along with Cam Newton and a 14-year-old Serbian.
“It’s a very, very eclectic and unique environment. What is very prominent relative to Jeff is his energy and it’s very contagious with any athlete around him. He coaches at 100 percent every time he is out on the floor.”
Much of Dillman’s approach evolved during his time at LSU. Besides Cochran and Dillman, Moffitt’s staff during that time period included FSU strength coordinator Vic Viloria and Scott Gadeken, the former University of Washington strength coach Moawad has tapped as Dillman’s replacement at IMG.
Moffitt’s coaching tree is as impressive as Saban’s.
“Look, there are a lot of different ways to win,’’ said Moawad, also a mental conditioning coach that has worked extensively with Alabama’s football program. “I think Coach Muschamp made a great decision obviously for the football program, but I think Florida made a great decision for all the sports there.
“That time period between 2000 and 2005 at LSU, there was not only a tremendous well of athletic talent that was producing all of that success in the SEC and a national championship, but you had great coaches working together. Jeff comes from that mold. He is very familiar with the SEC.’’
While Dillman’s primary focus will be football, what won’t change from sport to sport is his passion for the job. Those at IMG witnessed that daily on a campus that features more than 800 student-athletes training in eight different sports.
“I don’t care if I’m coaching a mom, a dad, a No. 1 draft pick like Cam Newton, I coach them all the same,’’ he said. “If they screw up, I tell them. It’s all about doing the little things right. I expect every kid to do it right. There is one way to do it right and a million ways to do it wrong.’’
One of the primary reasons he accepted Muschamp’s offer is because like he, Muschamp stresses the process to his team as much as the end result.
Doing the little things right on a daily basis can result in some big moments on the field. Dillman experienced the approach firsthand with Muschamp on LSU’s 2003 national championship team and at Appalachian State.
A photo of the Mountaineers’ upset of Michigan shows Dillman racing onto the field as excited as the players.
“We took care of business,’’ he said. “That’s what [Coach Muschamp] means by that blue-collar mentality. Put your nose to the grindstone and grind. That’s the story of my life and career.”
Dillman watched the Gators’ 24-17 win over Ohio State in Monday’s Gator Bowl on TV. He liked the way the Gators played tough and physical against a Buckeyes team that was considered perhaps more physical at the line of scrimmage.
His message to the Gators is simple. Get ready to work and have some fun.
“I’m just a passionate guy about what I do,’’ he said. “I love seeing young men and young women grow up and mature. My mother always said I would be preacher and I ended up going this route, so I’m pretty much a preacher still.
“The biggest thing I say to everybody is to get your mind right. My actions are going to trigger somebody’s feelings and my feelings are going to trigger somebody’s actions. I’m going to come fired up ready to work every single day. If you come into the facility, the place is going to be rocking and the kids are going to be having a good time, but they are going to be getting better. That is what builds a disciplined and fiery team.
“You play the way you train.’’