Coaching Philosophy: Winning Conditioning with Boise State Football

About the Author: Adam Reed is the associate editor of AFCA Magazine. The American Football Coaches Association is the only national organization dedicated to improving football coaches through ongoing education, interaction, and networking. The AFCA and Hammer Strength have teamed up to provide insights into the coaching profession, elite athletic programs, and more.

Bryan Harsin is in his fifth season as the head football coach at Boise State. He has always been a believer in the importance of the strength and conditioning program, and continues to rely on improvements in the weight room to drive the team’s success. His head strength and conditioning coach, Jeff Pitman, demonstrated the value of strength training when he coached Harsin as a player. Now, they are committed to working together to take the program to new heights.

Jeff Pitman“The last couple of years, we’ve changed a lot of different things with our program,” Pitman says. “There was a time where it was a power lift and running to get them in shape, but we’ve branched off into position specific training.”

Under Pitman’s guidance, the Broncos have taken a big-picture approach to the conditioning aspect of the program. Pitman says it’s important to take each position’s game-time demands into consideration when planning their conditioning work. The cardiovascular needs of a 300-pound lineman are drastically different from a 180-pound defensive back. So why should their conditioning work look the same?

Pitman and his staff take great care in planning the conditioning program for the entire year. With coaches getting their schedule with over six months to prepare for the season, there’s no reason a framework to keep players in peak shape throughout the entire season can’t be established long before the first game.

“I’ll say this. If you think you're done with your conditioning program at the end of July and then you're looking at November, how many months is that?” Pitman asks. “Obviously, you're practicing and running plays and all that stuff, but I still think that, at least once a week, we have to get our guys going and get the heart pumping. I think that's vital for success.”

Pitman’s emphasis on conditioning can certainly be seen on the field at Boise State. For years, he has focused on getting players ready to play four hard quarters of smashmouth football. In 2018, he has come to realize even that isn’t enough.

In their week two matchup last year with Washington State, the Broncos were up 31-10 with just under 11 minutes to go in regulation, but ended up losing the game in double overtime. Both Pitman and Harsin realized they needed to recommit themselves to peak conditioning, not just for four quarters, but for as long as it takes.

“That was kind of our war cry,” Pitman says. “When we get in the fourth quarter, we're going to outlast guys and wear guys out. And in that particular instance, it worked against us.”

Fast-forward to early November of last year at Colorado State, and the team found itself trailing by as many as 25, but found a way to win it in overtime. From a strength and conditioning perspective Pitman attributes the victory to making conditioning an emphasis earlier in the year, and staying committed to it for the duration of the season.

In the football world, much is made of explosivity, power and lateral quickness – and rightfully so.  But strength and conditioning coaches can’t afford to neglect the importance of the second half of their title – conditioning can make or break even the best of teams.

“Obviously as a strength coach, I think conditioning's vital, because the game's so fast-paced and teams run a lot more plays now.” Pitman says. “So, to me, it’s more important now than it ever was 20 years ago.”