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Bennie Wylie: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

After an offseason of strenuous workouts and unaccustomed accountability for Texas Longhorn football players in the weight room and in conditioning seasons, the legend of new strength of conditioning coach Bennie Wylie continues to grow as his understudies transform into lean, mean, football-playing machines.

Following a media availability on Friday, the man came further into focus, a major myth was debunked, yet the legend still grows. 

At this point, it's hardly revolutionary to declare Wylie as the most important hire Mack Brown made during the Great Coaching Purge after the disastrous 2010 season -- it's a claim made in this very space, as well as others around the interwebs.

It's a claim stemming in large part from the amount of time that the strength and conditioning coach for football spends with the players. Though the new assistant coaches and coordinators have only spent a matter of hours around the players with spring practice and the several days put in already this fall, Wylie was with the players nearly every day, learning how to push them to perform at the highest level.

The Man

To Jeff Madden, the longtime powerlifter and head of the Texas S&C program, Wylie "looks like a Greek god or something." To head coach Mack Brown, Wylie is someone who jokingly isn't allowed to take off his shirt around the other coaches' wives. Or not so jokingly. Greek god, indeed.

But there's no hubris with Wylie, who says that "I have no ego." It's believable, because it's about the kids, absolutely and totally:

For me, it's about pouring my heart and soul into this place and really into the kids.    

At his core, Wylie's a teacher, a molder of boys into men. 

The Myth

The cult of Bennie Wylie has expanded like Jeff Madden's gut over the years, with a growing segment of the fanbase seeing Wylie as a savior for a program that has seemingly focused too extensively on "Explosive Power" and too little on the conditioning aspects, actual football-related movements, with players often leaving Texas slower than upon entrance. 

A widespread myth about Wylie regarded his capability of working out with each of the five groups during an average day in the summer. While players still talked up his ability to consistently push them by doing, Wylie was much more self-deprecating:

I do train a lot with the guys, but with young guys I can't do that because I have to do a ton of teaching. With a guy like Keenan [Robinson], I can hop in with him, he knows how to train. He's a safe guy, and we can work together. It just depends on their experience level.

A myth busted, but Wylie did still manage to grow his legend in his own humble way.

The Legend

While Wylie's superhuman endurance and conditioning may have taken a hit with the revelation that the man is not in fact indefatigable and capable of working out numerous times a day with the players, the truth could almost increase the legend -- it's not necessarily that Wylie can't work out with every group, but simply that he would short the players by doing so, decreasing the tempo and intensity that defines his workouts.

It's much easier for me as a coach to start them over if we are running 100s, if I'm not out there with them. If I'm out there with them and start 'em over, there's a bigger commitment for me and for the team if we are all starting over together.

There isn't any revolutionary about Wylie and his approach to training, a fact leading to some skepticism among the cynics in the fanbase who believe that nothing is really changing. Here's what Wylie had to say about what he does:

It's my goal to train our guys just like they are going to play. If you're a defensive lineman and you're going to take on a heavy block, you're going to bull rush, you're going to speed rush or drop into coverage like the D-linemen are going to have to do in this defense - there's so many things you have to do in a football play. It's not just about bench and squat. I try and really duplicate what our coaches do on the field - I try to duplicate that in the weight room.

More than that, Wylie increased the tempo of workouts. Instead of letting players move slowly between stations while lifting weights, Master Chief now has the players moving from workout to workout at a high tempo to add an aspect of aerobic conditioning.

The Texas players don't just move like high-speed cattle in the weight room, either. One of Wylie's innovations this season is making the players think during offseason training:

It looks like mass chaos down there, but they know where they are going and what they are doing. But it's just like a football play. They have to look to the sideline and get a call. They've got to turn and communicate that to their teammates. Then they've got to execute it and execute it full speed. They've got to run to the ball and get the next call.   

Such communication strengthens the bond between players and keeps them thinking on their feet, precisely the traits that will translate to the football field in the fall.

There's a bond that Wylie works to strengthen between he and his players, as well. A true Renaissance man as deeply concerned about the mental development of his charges as the physical, Wylie strives to understand what makes each individual player tick, the better to motivate each individual player, a point defensive end Alex Okafor made to the press last week:

You've got to push some harder than others. Some people are self-starters and some aren't. He treats everyone like individuals.

Unlike the other coaches on the staff, Wylie isn't hamstrung by the same restrictions about player contact, allowing him to build personal relationships with each player -- relationships that pay off for both Wyile and his athletes:

That's the joy of my position. I'm around these guys all year long, so I really get to know them. Like right now, I'm supposed to be at lunch with the guys. 

We hang out. We do things together, so I know what button to push. I know what makes them tick. I know some guys like to be coached hard and others you have to put your arm around. 

So during that one-on-one time, you know what that guy needs because I'm going to talk to their position coach. I'm going to be at every practice and see what they need to work on. Then after practice, I'll say, we really need to work on sticking your toe in the ground.

Then, during the spring and summer, I'll create drills that will really help hone that part of their craft.

Wylie may not be reinventing the wheel, but it's clear that he takes a much deeper personal interest in the day-to-day workouts than Jeff Madden was in recent years. Considering that the main issue with the strength and conditioning program was a lack of oversight and accountability, having someone there every day working closely with the players, someone the players can respect for being in superlative shape, could make a discernible difference on the field. 

Wylie may not be a leading mind in cutting-edge workouts, but he can walk the walk. And with his ability to reach players dependent on his ability to earn their respect, there seems to be little question that Wylie has done so in a short period of time.