For the first time in school history, UTD will have a designated strength and conditioning coach to help student-athletes grow and develop.
On Aug. 7, the athletic department announced that Jami Clinton was hired to start the new program from scratch. She has more than 15 years of experience training collegiate athletes and has worked at Division I schools such as the University of Alabama, the University of Mississippi, Texas Christian University and the University of Memphis.
Clinton, who is originally from the Dallas area and graduated from Dallas Baptist University, received several phone calls about the job opening from other members of the collegiate strength and conditioning community.
“The majority of the people, my professional colleagues, know that I’m from this area, and I’ve been a head strength coach before,” she said. “With this being a brand new program, they all thought that I would be a really good fit.”
Head Athletic Trainer Tom Monagan, who was in charge of the committee assigned to finding candidates for the position, said the athletics department has been attempting to start a strength and conditioning program for several years.
“When I first got here five years ago, that was one of the things when they interviewed me that I told them we really needed,” he said. “At the time, we were having the athletic trainers on the staff who were also strength and conditioning certified doing that, and it was too much.”
Monagan explained having a strength and conditioning coach not only helps keep athletes in shape throughout the season, but it also helps them stay healthy and prevent injury.
“As you compete, you get seasons that are longer, you have a lot of games, you have a lot of practices and kids have to be able to maintain what they’ve got and build on that,” Monagan said. “To be able to compete, even at Division III, it’s vital to what we do.”
Athletic Director Bill Pettit realized the need for the position when the men’s basketball team played the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the third round of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
“I thought talent-wise we were very similar to them, but they were just bigger and stronger,” he said. “I’ve always just kind of kept it in my mind that if there were a way to (hire a strength and conditioning coach), it would be really good.”
After going to UT Arlington, Southern Methodist University and TCU to research how their strength and conditioning programs are run, the search committee opened up the job and received over 100 applicants.
According to Pettit, Clinton stood out among the other candidates because of her background and how she interacted with student-athletes during her interview. One of these athletes, senior baseball player Brandon George, said he was pleased with what he saw from Clinton on the first day.
“The difference that I felt with her is that opposed to working out with a trainer at a local gym or something like that, it really felt to me like she was a legitimate strength and conditioning coach,” he said. “I was being coached as opposed to being kind of dragged through a workout.”
According to George, Clinton showed the athletes the workouts and how to do them and then pushed them through the actual routines. He said it was like she cared as much about the players hitting their marks as they did.
George works out with Clinton three times a week and has started to grow accustomed to her intense personality.
“When it’s time for business, she can turn it on,” he said. “It’s sort of like she projects energy through you, which is something, as an athlete, we like to have with us.”
Clinton will be overseeing all 13 varsity sports, which she admitted will be a challenge to manage by herself her first year. Still, she said she hopes to maximize the potential ability of athletes at UTD so they can perform on the fields and courts.
One of the main ways she plans to do this is by utilizing the new 5,000 square-foot weight room in Synergy Park North that has been designated for student-athletes and faculty.
“We’re always in a voluntary time unless they’re in season, but they have this wonderful facility,” she said. “I’m here to make sure they don’t get hurt, because weight lifting is dangerous, and it’s important that they know how to do it properly.”
Clinton said many of the athletes don’t know how to properly train and lift weights to get stronger, so a large part of her early work will focus on the proper form and techniques used to lift. Once they get those basics down, she said, the athletes will be ready to build muscle and gain strength.
Clinton will be working with the coaching and training staffs for the various sports to make sure she is providing the appropriate workouts. Her main focus won’t be on improving the skills the athletes need for their various sports, but rather on getting them physically ready to compete at the national level.
“I don’t want to say we’re going to be as big and strong and fast as national champions,” she said. “I want to say we have a national championship team because we’re bigger and stronger and faster. We already have such a great coaching staff here. I feel like this is one of those missing pieces and if they just have that one missing piece, I think that we will win a national championship in the next few years.”