When Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh vowed to do a serious self-scout on his staff after a disappointing 8-5 season, he wasn’t kidding around.
Tim Drevno is now coaching running backs at USC. Greg Frey is tutoring the offensive line at Florida State. Former Florida coach Jim McElwain is now on the offensive side of the ball for the Wolverines, along with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. Kevin Tolbert is out as strength and conditioning coach; former Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert is in.
Of all the new additions to the Wolverines’ staff, which one figures to help Michigan the most this fall? Former Wolverines and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler pulled up the bios and made their picks …
Q: WHICH MICHIGAN OFFSEASON HIRE WILL SHOOT THE WOLVERINES BACK INTO THE BIG TEN EAST RACE IN 2018?
SEAN KEELER: BEN HERBERT, STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACH
Championships are for closers. Over its last seven games of 2017, Michigan was outscored 47-14 in the fourth quarter, for an average of 6.7 to 2.0 final-frame points per contest. The Wolverines were outscored 23-0 in losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina — a ratio of 7.6 to zip.
So even more important than the fact that new strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert lists working with 71 NFL draft picks, two Heisman Trophy finalists, two Outland Trophy winners and two Doak Walker Award winners on his résumé are these little stats:
- 435-309. As in, Wisconsin’s fourth-quarter scoring margin from 2009-12, when Herbert was the Badgers’ strength and conditioning coach.
- 856-442. Wisconsin’s scoring margin in November, December and January from 2009-12.
- 15-5. Wisconsin’s record from November or later from 2009-12.
Herbert is an old Badgers defensive lineman, a Rose Bowl vet, a prodigy of Barry Alvarez and a native of Pittsburgh. Not a lot of finesse on that CV. Hammer first, ask questions later.
— Ty Rogers (@_TyRogers_) February 1, 2018
Every strength coach chews nails and talks a good game. The best ones get creative when it comes to pounding a metaphorical point home, and Herbert’s masterstroke came in between Wisconsin’s jump from seven wins in 2008 to 10 in 2009.
The story goes that he went to a local Home Depot, purchased a couple of giant house plants, stuck a nametag on one and called it “The Governor” and did the same with another, calling it “The Deacon.”
The Governor was fed a diet by the book and tended to regularly. The Deacon was given beer, whiskey and Doritos.
It didn’t take long for players to see the difference in the two plants. Or to get the damn point.
Every Badgers workout ended with the players grabbing hands and forming a large circle. If you were late for a workout or a test, you couldn’t join in and were forced to stand in the middle as your teammates surrounded you. No shock, the circle got larger as time went on, and the head count inside started shrinking, too. One circle. One page. One goal.
So we know Herbert is big into accountability. And greens. His sundae bar at his last gig with Arkansas included kale and avocado as mixers for the energy drinks. In 2014, the Razorbacks trotted out the heaviest offensive line in FBS, with an average of 328.4 pounds per blocker.
The fall before Herbert arrived in Fayetteville, the Hogs allowed 1.5 sacks per game, the second-best mark in the SEC. After Year 1 in his weight room, Arkansas cut that number by more than half in 2013 — allowing only 8 sacks for the season and 0.67 per contest, both tops in a league loaded with NFL-caliber defensive linemen.
It takes a village to punch it in once you’ve reached the red zone, which makes another pre-Herbert vs. post-Herbert stat line interesting, too. In 2012, before the Bret Bielema/Ben Herbert Era, the Razorbacks ranked last in the SEC in percentage of trips inside the 20 that ended in touchdowns — 46.94, or fewer than half.
In 2013, Herbert’s first campaign, it jumped up to 60.53 percent, then hopped up to 64.29 percent — fifth in the SEC — in 2014.
The Wolverines’ offense, if you’re curious, converted 52.27 percent of its red-zone trips into touchdowns last fall, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten. And even that number seems a lot higher than it actually felt.
The Badgers’ sack count went from 1.92 per game in 2008, the year before Herbert took over the weight room, to 1.77 per contest in 2009, to 1.08 in 2010 — the first of two Wisconsin offensive line units that Herbert and Bielema rode all the way to Pasadena.
Championships are for closers. And if we’ve learned anything from the past two Novembers, it’s that it ain’t how you start in this league. It’s how you finish.