Brian sits down with current University of Texas strength & conditioning coach Yancy McKnight to discuss the rebirth of Longhorn Football. Yancy breaks down the mindset that he and head coach Tom Herman are building at Texas, as well as the importance of routines, attitude and body language.
You will learn…
- How Yancy helped establish University of Houston Football as a national presence.
- Yancy’s experience working under some of football’s most successful and innovative coaches, including Les Miles, Todd Graham and Tom Herman.
- What it takes to be successful at the highest level of football.
Follow Yancy on Twitter @yjmcknight
Yeah, you’re a five star in high school but are you a five star when you’re a senior at college? If you’re going to bring that five-star rating, bring that five-star energy every day, then yeah, you will be.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? Brian Cain with the Peak Performance Podcast here. Today our guest is Yancy McKnight. He is one of the premier strength and conditioning coaches in the county. Coach McKnight spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons as the director of football sports performance at the University of Houston, one of the premier programs in the country, where he helped the Cougars establish a national presence.
Before arriving in Houston, McKnight served as the director of strength and conditioning for six years at Iowa State University, where he mentored seven Cyclones who have gone on to play in the National Football League. McKnight has worked under some of football’s most successful and innovative coaches, including Les Miles, Todd Graham, and currently Tom Herman.
Yancy now serves as the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Texas football and will be an instrumental piece of the puzzle in helping reestablish the Longhorns as a perennial power in college football. Please welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast the guy who brings the juice at all times, Coach Yancy McKnight. Coach McKnight, thanks for taking the time to be on the podcast.
McKnight: I appreciate being here, Brian.
Cain: When were you with Performance Course?
McKnight: Well, I was with Performance Course as a consultant when I left – Geno and I started the Adams Course back in 1996. That was the first company we started down in Texas together when we both were playing together. Then I left in 2002 to go to Oklahoma State as an assistant string coach and then Geno started Performance Course. While I was at Oklahoma State I was a consultant with Geno. Basically designing all speed strength programs with Geno; then, obviously, consultation with the staff. We need high school coaches down there that we were involved with as far as their programs, offside programs or in season programs. So I did all the way up until about, I want to say 2012. About 10 years. Then it just – well, then he got Jeremiah Chapman. Jeremiah is a stud. So Jeremiah just kind of working through the progression stuff. And Jeremiah is a real sharp guy and very smart, and he’s kind of taken that role so I was able to kind of move off it a little bit. But it was kind of getting to that point, I had my two boys and my wife and we were –
Cain: Yeah, yeah.
McKnight: Kind of in that pressure every day. Then Geno hired such good people within his program, his company, that I could kind of step out the side because those guys – we had either coached those guys as kids, that he’s got hired, or like Derek Callow was a GA for me.
McKnight: And Jerry Maurice was a Performance Course kid growing up and he was a player for us at Iowa State. So there’s a lot of interconnection in there. The Performance Course guys growing up as kids or moving on and maybe even those GAs for me are coaching in college too, so…
Cain: Awesome. If you would, could you talk a little bit just about, for the high school athletes that are listening to this, the importance of strength and conditioning for their overall development as an athlete.
McKnight: Well, you’re talking about, obviously, like performance in game practice, but I think also the one thing about strength and conditioning that I think people sometimes overlook is the long term. Obviously, your long-term health, but really what it does – I think it sets you up for professional life when you’re done playing because you get in a routine. We talk about our guys, to our guys all the time. Pros have routines. They’ve got their schedule. The guys that last a long time in the NFL, (1) they’re genetic freaks, but (2) they have a routine and they go about that routine diligently every day. So I think that for high school athletes, being in a good organized strength and conditioning program obviously is key.
The benefits are obviously putting yourself in a great position for a performance on Fridays, or whatever day of the week it is, the competition. I think long term too it teaches them blue-collar mentality, some grit. It teaches them just day-to-day workmanship attitude. I think to me (I don’t care what you do, white collar, blue collar, whatever it is), I think if you have that thought process every day – and I talk to these guys all the time about there are two things you can control in life, attitude and effort. That’s it. I think from that side of the strength conditioning, I think it sets you up as far as having a routine and being diligent and purposeful whenever you get up every morning.
Cain: I love that and that will be a message I think that the athletes are hearing consistently is – whether it’s a strength coach, whether it’s your football coach, whether it’s myself – it’s going to be the two things you can control are attitude and effort, and you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to maximize those if you’re going to be productive as an athlete. If you would, Coach, talk about the importance of belief and confidence and how that has played a role in your success as a coach or in the success of the athletes that you’ve coached.
McKnight: Well, I think it goes back to always when you think as a coach – I mean to me, you’re always going to go back in time as far as what’s your experience towards an athlete. You had good coaches, you had bad coaches. You had good people in your life, bad people in your life. You have all these experiences and so it’s history. So if you’re a good coach, you’d go back into those experiences and you remember the goods and the bads and what worked and what didn’t work, and you’d take notes mentally and obviously write them down every single day. But you think about that stuff as far as how you were treated as an athlete and the good and the bad and what worked and what didn’t. Every single guy – or every single athlete I should say, not just guy – they respond differently. Every person knows from my side of it I can’t be the same guy coach-wise, the way – I can’t respond to every single guy the exact same way.
Group is a different dynamic but individually, that’s a different dynamic too. So from that standpoint I think I look back at all of the things that – and especially now it’s the whys. Everybody has got to know the why. And I’m good with that. I think it’s good. I think it’s healthy. Because I do think that ties into the belief systems – because if you don’t know why you do what you do, it’s hard to be motivated. So I do explain the whys. I explain the objectives. I think that goes back to my teaching background and my wife’s a teacher, and that’s lesson plans are made right there. There are objectives on the lesson plans of what they want to get done in their semester or their cycle or their periods or whatever may be, and you have to explain the objectives upfront and then you’re working towards a goal.
So if the kids don’t know, athletes don’t know the objectives, don’t know the goals, then they don’t know the why. And it’s hard to be motivated and have belief systems when you don’t know why you do what you do or why you’re getting up at 5:00 in the morning to go to the weight room and put a bar or on your back, or go on the turf and run, or push lines, or whatever may be, or go in circle drill and hit each other – you know what I mean? So there are a lot of things I think you’ve got to explain, especially now. Back in the day no one explained us the why. And we didn’t think. We just did or we got smacked upside the head. So times are different now, so as a coach you’ve got to adjust and adapt to different times.
The belief systems, those are crucial. I think because – I always say this – how do I get my skill guys to like the lift, like my bigs, like the lift? And then vice-versa, how do I get my bigs to like to run and do movement like the skills? So you’ve got to explain why is the wide receiver here in the weight room doing power pumps? Or why you’re doing a squat or front squat or whatever may be? So it’s the same with the bigs. Why are we doing agility? Why are we doing conditioning? That’s just as much it is X and Os. I think we all know you can write great stuff on templates but if those athletes don’t believe in you, all the gurus are not going to work.
Cain: Yeah, no doubt. No doubt there. If you were to, say, have a room full – let’s imagine you’ve got a room full of Performance Course high school athletes that want to take their game to the next level, whether it’s football or basketball or whatever sport they’re playing. They want to go play out of University of Texas. They want to go play Division 1. Talk to them. What message would you send them about the importance of effort?
McKnight: Oh yeah. But that’s – effort, I think, is all encompassing. I think, one, it’s – we always tell a guys like that all the time. If you’re not giving a great effort in the classroom, guess what? You’re not going to play. So if you’re not giving great effort in regeneration techniques, if you’re not giving great effort in getting to bed on time, if you’re not giving great effort in getting the treatment, nutrition, the recovery aspects, let alone all the training… Effort, I think, is something that – I said it earlier, there are two things you control in life. If I’ve got a bad attitude, I’m going to probably have a bad effort. I mean, that’s pretty much handmade.
So if I walk into the weight room right off the bat with what I call a foot dragon mouth breathing, you know what I mean? I already know right now your body language is wrong. You need to come back out, you need to get back out of the weight room and when you come back in, I need a guy who is bright-eyed. I need a guy who doesn’t have crusties in his eyes and the sleepyhead stuff. I’m good. I don’t need that foot dragon guy. I need a guy coming in that’s ready to roll and ready to give some great effort. But right off the bat that goes back to his attitude, right, you know?
Cain: Well, what’s the difference between – I mean, obviously effort is what they’re putting into the weight room. Is attitude kind of the mindset of how they show up? How do you distinguish between what is attitude and effort?
McKnight: Well, I think they’re so hand in hand. But I think the attitude has to be first. I don’t think you can have a bad attitude and give great effort. I just don’t think that’s possible, I don’t think. That’s my personal opinion. I think it’s A and then it’s B, but they’re so interlocked together that it’s hard to distinguish. But I think first the attitude has to be right for them to give maximal effort. How do you become better and elite? That is, it is you have to give maximal effort in pretty much everything you do to be elite. To be average is, I think it’s fairly easy. I don’t think that requires a lot of thought or intention or mindfulness. I don’t think it takes much. That’s hard. You’re fighting. You’re fighting complacency and average mentalities every day.
Cain: No doubt.
McKnight: That’s what it just is. So let’s try to get everybody to be elite. That’s the goal. That’s the goal. But yeah, I think the attitude – the effort – once the attitude is right the effort, I think, is just a byproduct of an attitude.
Cain: The players that you’ve coached that have gone on to play in the NFL, whether it was Iowa State or whether it was at Houston, the guys that you’ve coached that have gone on to be superstars or at the best athletes – I should say the best performers because sometimes your best athletes are not your best performers because they’re missing attitude and effort. So let’s define a great athlete as somebody who maximizes their ability, gets the most out of their potential – whether that’s a third string guard, it’s a third string guard or if that’s a Heisman Trophy winner, it’s a Heisman trophy winner. The desire that you see in those athletes to empty the tank, to bring the juice, to maximize their ability – where does that desire usually come from in those guys that you coach?
McKnight: Well, I think some have it. They just naturally have it. Those guys are – I remember this a long time ago. Todd Graham said it to me one time. We had a really hard charger due to . He said, “Yance, that guy is easy to coach. It’s, get me this other guy that doesn’t want to come and get after it and train hard and all this stuff – that’s why you’ve got coach on your nameplate.”
So there are some guys that naturally just get – they’ve got it. I use a guy like – there is a guy that plays with the Panthers right now, AJ Cline. That guy, when he walks in the program – here is a guy that had going to Iowa State as his only offer. He ends up being a hell of a defensive player in the Big 12 as a junior, you know. So he’s still playing in the NFL. He understood that stuff. He internally – there were some things you had to help him with a little bit as far as some of the whys and all that stuff; but from a work side of it, it was never – I don’t know that I ever had to address effort issues with AJ Cline.
Cain: And usually the guys that come in – the non-five-star recruit that ends up going on to be Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year – those guys have got that internal desire to be great. I think I heard a stat the other day that, I think it was that when the Seahawks and the Patriots played in the Super Bowl, there was not a five-star recruit on the field. Isn’t that awesome?
McKnight: And that’s what I said. I said that to – I made that comment to Ed Oliver when he came in as a true freshman. “You’re a five star right now but are you going to be a five star in four years? I hope so.” But I gave him that stat of the Seahawks and the Patriots that time when they played the Super Bowl. I said, “There were no five stars in that Super Bowl.” I said, “Think about that.” So yeah, you’re a five star in high school but are you a five star when you’re a senior at college? We don’t see. So yeah, if you’re going to bring that five-star rating, bring that five-star energy every day, then yeah, you will be. More than likely you will stay healthy and some things will happen for you.
But yeah, I think it’s finding the motivational techniques for each individual guy that’s a challenge. That’s a challenge for all coaches, I think too. I think that’s why sometimes you win at places you’re not supposed to win and maybe that’s why you develop guys that are two- and three-star guys and maybe they didn’t have no offers. Like Anderson Bejo plays for the Vikings that came to us at Rice. He didn’t have much in high school. That guy is a starting Safety for the Vikings now making a lot of money. A guy that’s internally driven.
Cain: With the programs that you’ve been around and the successful athletes and even with yourself being maybe the top strength and conditioning coach in the country if not the – I don’t know how they rank that; it’s not like you can get in the cage and fight it out and someone is the world champion – but one of hands down the best strength coaches in the country, how important is the mental game and mindset in what you do in terms of conditioning and what you do in terms of getting guys ready to go out there and play football in one of the best colleges in the country?
McKnight: I think the one thing I do know is this, like with Coach Herman because I’ve been with him for – him as a coordinator, him as a head coach – quite a while, since 2007 in some capacity. I remember even back then he talked about being 1-0. 1-0 is a great statement, I think. A lot of people say “win the day” and I think that’s a good one too.
But I think 1-0 is really like micro. We talk about when you come to the weight room, every time you touch a bar – I tell them every time they come to a lift this is going to be a potential brick that you’re going to build in the foundation of your season this year. So is that brick going to be solid today, or is that brick going to be the one that is going to be shaky come October in the 4th quarter, that you just didn’t put that work in that day and maybe that was the day? I don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know when that happens. That’s every rep. If I can take that – the mentality of just what’s in front of me.
I used a great analogy one time to our players. My youngest, Brock, my family were at the zoo, Ft. Worth Zoo. This was a couple of years ago. We went to the snow cone deal. So we all get snow cones and my youngest, he didn’t want a snow cone. So he gets mad. “I don’t want a snow cone. I want this.” We’re like, “Well, you’re not getting it. You either get a snow cone or you don’t get nothing.” So my man storms off and he’s looking behind him and he’s mean mugging us and he never sees this trash can. This trash can, this big metal trash can, boom, hits him right in the eye. I mean, like smokes him. So it kind of knocks him up and he blacks out. Me and my wife kind of chuckle and laugh and my other one, Brody, we kind of laugh at him like you probably should be paying attention to what’s in front of you.
So it’s a great analogy that I sometimes use with players. You start looking around and looking behind you or try to look in front of you and, boom, there it is right there facing you and hitting you in the face – the reality of looking past things or not looking right at what’s in front of you. I saw that in real life.
Cain: That’s hilarious. We’ve all done that. You’re running with your head down and here comes a damn pole or you trip over a sidewalk that’s been pushed up.
McKnight: Or you’re looking past the week in front of you to the next week or you’re looking back behind you, patting yourself on the back about the win from the week before. Or hey, I squatted a 500 last cycle, I’m good.
So I think those things – the 1-0 mentality, I think, is so micro that you can use that in everything you do. So it gets down to like there are 70-80 plays in the game and how many of those do we win? Eleven guys competing against 11 guys and those one-on-one battles. Or me against the squat bar. In all those relations as far as like to competition, they’re all there every day. It’s like making my conditioning time. Do I make it or do I dominate? It’s my acceleration thing. I’m doing 10s. Am I just going 85% or am I going full speed? Am I really concentrating on the technique? I mean all that stuff is mental preparation to attack a rep.
So I think that’s – I know with our program, with Coach Herman, at least what I’ve always done in the training side of it is the set that you’re getting ready to do is the most important set in the world. The rep that you’re going to do is the most important rep in the world right now. That’s it.
Cain: Because it’s right now.
McKnight: It’s right now.
Cain: And the time is always now.
McKnight: Yeah, and you’re not going to get it back. And is that the rep that cost you in a crucial time in the game? That you’ve practiced this rep and you didn’t go very hard at it, you’re not mastering the rep and so are you going to master it in the game? So those things are, I think, being mindful of what you do and how you do it. It has to be coached – it can’t just be assumed. So you hear it all the time: You’re either coaching it or you’re allowing it. So those things have to be done.
It’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to, as you said, bring the juice every day and coach like that. But I mean, I tell our kids all the time you’d better be tired at the end of the day, whether you lift or you didn’t lift. You’d better coach your ass off. Your feet better be on fire. I learned that from Joe Durance a long time ago. Listen to him talk 9-6, 9-7 – that day your feet had better be on fire. So mentally and physically you should be tapped out.
Cain: Love it. Coach, you’ve given some awesome strategies, some awesome ideas here for the Performance Course athletes and people listening to this to take. Here’s my last question for you. Well, I’ve got two actually. One question is real short. People want to follow, they want some more Yancy McKnight – Twitter handle @YJMcKnight. They can get some of your excellence you’re putting out there.
Cain: Here is my last question. You’ve got that room full of Performance Course athletes. You can remove their skullcap and plant a seed inside of their brain that is going to germinate and they’re going to do it. You put the skullcap back on and they’re on their way. What’s the one seed of success that you would plant inside of these athletes to be able to give them the best chance for success? Is it 1-0 today? Is it attitude and effort and the controllables? What would it be for you? What is your one seed of success for them?
McKnight: I think probably, I just believe I think attitude and effort. I think if I still go back to if their attitude is not right, they’re going to have trouble giving effort and if they have trouble giving effort, they’re probably are not going to be 1-0. So I would say that’s the #1 thing, I think, with the young kids.
And it’s so simple. It’s not like 55 different steps of success. There’s not a pyramid per se. It’s just – I think it’s a simple thing to just think about every day – your attitude and effort. Attitude and effort. As long as I have a great attitude, regardless of whatever is going on in my life, I can at least kind of – I talk to him all the time about just being tunnel vision regardless of what’s going on with your girlfriend or your home life or academics or maybe not playing great. Just control what you can control, man. Don’t control what other people do. Just don’t. You don’t control life. All you control is what you can control. That’s those two things.
Cain: You can’t control what happens to you, you can’t control what people say, but you take the old E + R = O. It’s not the Event that happens to you – it’s always choosing your
Response, and that’s going to lead to the Outcome. Well, Coach McKnight, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule this holiday season and helping out with a little message to the Performance Course athletes. Thanks so much.
McKnight: I appreciate it. Thanks, Brian.
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