BLOOMINGTON – Aaron Wellman said it was a gut decision. Wellman had built a strong reputation in his four years as head strength and conditioning coach in the NFL with the New York Giants.
But the pull to return home was strong for Wellman, a Ligonier native who began his strength and conditioning coaching career as a graduate assistant at Indiana.
In taking over as IU’s strength and conditioning coach this month, for a reported $700,000 per year, Wellman faces the immediate challenge of putting together a strength and conditioning program with players scattered across the state and country due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It's trying to individualize workouts from a distance, which involves a lot of communication with the athletes,” Wellman said. “Our athletes know that I'm on call 24 hours a day for them. We've provided the workouts through an app on their iPhones so that they can download their workouts, we can track their progress and they can certainly FaceTime me, call me, text me, communicate via the app on any and every question they have, and we're trying to meet their needs from afar right now.”
Without IU players being able to use the school’s state-of-the-art weight room at Memorial Stadium for the foreseeable future, Wellman is formulated dumbbell weight plans for some players. As a potential lockdown of campus lingers, though, Wellman admitted there will be some concerns as to the timeframe of getting players ready for a college football season from a strength and conditioning standpoint.
“I don't think we're there yet,” Wellman said. “I think our guys are committed to the process and doing a great job at home. But how long it takes to get ready for the season is based upon the training status our players come back in, right, and we trust our players to do what's right at home, we trust our players to do it better than anyone in the country, and so there's no concerns yet, but certainly we want ample time with them when they come back to get them ready for the rigors of the season.”
If and when IU players return, Wellman said his core philosophy centers on maximizing speed, strength and power through efficient motion, which helps reduce injury risk.
“We want to minimize inappropriate orthopedic stress, which means inappropriate orthopedic stress comes from too high a volume, too high a frequency, too high an intensity or poor technique,” Wellman said. “A north star for us in our program is movement efficiency, right, and we can build strength and power and speed and work capacity on top of efficient movement, but that's got to be the foundation. We want our players moving well.”
Wellman said another important goal is to build a strong staff around him. In addition to former strength and conditioning coach Dave Ballou, IU also lost speed coach Dr. Matt Rhea to Alabama.
“We've identified some guys I think that would be great for this program and this team and these individuals on the team, but we're still working through that process,” Wellman said.
Wellman has a strong relationship with Ballou, which began when Wellman was a grad assistant strength coach at IU at the same time Ballou was a fullback for the Hoosiers (1997-99). Wellman plans to incorporate some of the data-driven, sports science methods Ballou and Rhea incorporated that were successful at IU.
“The people that are forward thinking in this field have used data more so in the last five, 10 years than we ever did before, and I think it's a mistake not to,” Wellman said. “I think it's a mistake not to use data in decision making. Will that drive every decision? Not necessarily, but it certainly plays a part in the decision-making process.”
Former Indiana football coach Cam Cameron, who gave Wellman his first shot as a full-time assistant strength coach in 1998, said current IU coach Tom Allen deserves credit for finding a high-quality replacement for Ballou.
“Guys like that are hard to replace, and they did,” Cameron said. “I tell you what, Aaron Wellman is a star in the strength and conditioning world, and Indiana won’t miss a beat, and I think most people would agree with that.”