Florida Football: Just how bad was strength and conditioning for the Gators?

The Gators will have a new strength and conditioning coach in 2024. What went wrong under the old regime?

A mini foam finger sits on the field at the pilon in the endzone during the first half between the
A mini foam finger sits on the field at the pilon in the endzone during the first half between the / Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun / USA

One of the perceptions for Florida football in 2023 was that the Gators were often the weaker team when it took the field on Saturdays. Whether or not it was reality is up for debate, but Billy Napier felt there wasn't progress being made in the weight room, and last month he opted to demote Mark Hocke and hired Craig Fitzgerald away from the New York Giants.

And while we may never fully know why Napier opted to make the switch, there are clues we can piece together to indicate that Hocke's philosophy was flawed from the start.

Florida Football: Lift Heavy

When Napier came to Gainesville and brought on Hocke, it meant that Nick Savage also had to lead. Savage, the strength and conditioning coach for Florida under Dan Mullen, was well respected by the players at the time.

But the first hint there was going to be a change in philosophy was an interview Anthony Richardson gave in March of 2022 that detailed the philosophy of Hocke compared to Savage.

"“He's focused on your body a little more. For the last staff, they were trying to get us to bulk up and be a lot stronger. But, Coach Hocke, he wants us to be like, a faster team, because you can't really teach speed, but you can get guy's body right so they can move a little faster.""

Anthony Richardson

And from Napier's claims, the Gators did get faster. Before the season started, Napier highlighted that 55 players hit "personal best velocities" during the last off-season. The problem is that outside of Tre Wilson, Florida never felt like a team that was faster than everyone in 2023.

And if they weren't faster, they definitely weren't stronger. Outgoing defensive end Princely Umanmielen pretty much confirmed why.

In an interview with Inside The Gators, Umanmielen was asked an vast array of questions that he answered with candor. One of the things he was asked was about the state of the strength and conditioning program under Hocke. It is safe to say that Umanmielen wasn't a fan.

"With them [the new staff] coming from Louisana Lafayette, I’m not trying to put anyone down, I don’t know, it felt like we were training to be in the Pac12 instead of the SEC. The last two years it felt like we focused more on conditioning and running than lifting weights. I was getting so small in the off-season because we weren’t lifting enough heavy weights. No joking, if you looked at our offseason workouts, you would think we were a track team."

Princely Umanmielen

It is one thing if we, as fans, perceive the strength program to be lacking. It is another when players outright confirm it. Whether they were good coaches or not, Corey Raymond and Sean Spencer had players flock to social media in their defense when they got fired.

That wasn't the case for Hocke.

And if fans are worried that Fitzgerald will be more of the same, there is reason to believe he will not. During his time at Tennessee he insisted on adding more free weights, racks, medicine balls, heavy bags and chains. They had a quote while he was there to "Move heavy weights fast."

As was the case with Savage and Hocke, Fitzgerald's evaluation will be as much perception as it is reality. But if one is a believer that football players should be lifting heavy weights in the off season rather than be track stars, they are going to get that under Fitzgerald.