Tom Osborne recommended that Bob Devaney hire Boyd Epley as the nation's first strength coach.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Lifetime Achiever Epley Celebrating His Roots

By NU Athletic Communications
 Randy York's N-Sider

Dr. Ken Cooper is The Father of Aerobics.  Jack LaLanne is The Godfather of Fitness.  Both received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, which this fall will welcome The Godfather of Strength and Conditioning to its ranks.  Boyd Epley, the first Lifetime Achievement Award winner from the National Strength Coaches Association (NSCA), will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from an organization created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, renamed by President John F. Kennedy, and perpetuated by every U.S. President since.

“This is different territory for me, and what I will try to do is represent all the strength coaches out there,” Epley told me Thursday while he and his wife, Jane, were driving to their one-year-old house between Lincoln and Omaha to celebrate Boyd’s 67th birthday Monday with neighbors and friends.  “We get back to Nebraska about every two or three months.  We bought this house in an area called Beacon View.  It’s on a sand pit, not a lake, but we intend to retire and live in Nebraska someday.  We miss the state.  We miss the people.  We’ve met a lot of really nice people in Colorado, too, but we miss the grass in Nebraska.  We miss the water.  We miss the trees.  Some people move away from Nebraska to retire, but we’re coming back home when I retire.”

Epley was the founder, president and executive director of NSCA, which is by far the largest strength organization in the United States with 42,000 certified and 27,000 members.  “I still have a lot of gas left in the tank.  I’m not quite ready to shut down,” Epley said. “I’m accelerating right now, helping Division I strength coaches gain the right certification to meet the NCAA requirement that will go into effect in 2015."

Weight Lifting Went from Taboo to a Booming Business

When Epley retired from Nebraska to work directly for and with the NSCA, he focused on high school and college certification.  “Now we have a new executive director, and he’s asked me to help him with sponsorships,” Epley said.  “We were the first-ever accredited strength and conditioning organization in the country.  I was able to convince some coaches and athletes that strength training would improve performance in a time when it wasn’t recommended at all.  In fact, coaches restricted athletes from lifting weights.  Now, every sport and every athlete you can think of is lifting weights to improve performance.  It was something that caught on and involved millions of people, and somehow I’m the one being recognized for it.”

Make no mistake.  Boyd Epley had numerous collaborative colleagues who helped him research, innovate and enable Nebraska Athletics to become the benchmark by which all other strength and conditioning programs are measured.  Strength Hall-of-Famer Mike Arthur, for instance, worked diligently with Epley and is now in his ninth year as the head strength coach for baseball and in his 36th year with Nebraska Athletics.  “We could not have built what we did without a lot of cooperation and collaboration,” Epley said.  “Mike and Randy Gobel (now director of athletic facilities at the Bob Devaney Sports Center) were both pivotal in keeping Nebraska at the top.  So many were impacted by what we did together.  It’s like this big wave, and I don’t even know who all the people are out there that have been impacted.  It’s just been amazing to watch.  People can’t honor everyone, but I think almost every worker we had at Nebraska deserves part of the honor I’m receiving.”

On the sideline at Memorial Stadium, Boyd Epley listens intently to the wisdom of Nebraska business icon Warren Buffett.

Nebraska: The Birthplace of Strength and Conditioning

As a lifetime achiever who is precise about everything he takes on, Epley chonicles on his own website how innovation created the strength at NebraskaHusker Power isn’t just a cheer at Nebraska football, Husker basketball and Big Red baseball games.  It’s a brand that was strategically planned, carefully built and masterfully executed, helping Nebraska be recognized as the birthplace of strength and conditioning for collegiate athletics, even though some loosely organized schools experimented with weightlifting prior to 1969. 

After back-to-back 6-4 football seasons in 1967 and ’68, Tom Osborne asked Epley to present a case to Bob Devaney to hire Epley, so Nebraska could become the first school to hire a full-time strength and conditioning coach.  The results were immediate. The Huskers finished 9-2, ending the 1969 season with a 44-14 win at Oklahoma and a 45-6 trouncing of Georgia in the Sun Bowl.  The next two seasons, Nebraska won back-to-back national championships – the first two of five national titles overall.  While Epley was the strength coach designing the year-round training program, Nebraska won 356 games and all five of its national championships and produced three Heisman Trophy winners. 

With Osborne’s full blessing, Nebraska expanded its weight room and delivered a number of historic firsts in football – first with an official summer conditioning class, first to create a national coaching organization to share best practices, first school to offer a degree for strength coaching, first to take a portable weight room to a bowl game, first to computerize lifting progress charts for individual athletes, and first to open the nation’s largest weight room that included a tool room for Gobel to help create even more innovative equipment.

Two-time Outland Trophy winner Dave Rimington, left, is the only Nebraska football player inducted into the NCAA Academic Hall-of-Fame. Dick Enberg, center, presented the award to Rimington in San Diego. Boyd Epley, right, represented Nebraska Athletics.

Portable Chest Press Helped Dave Rimington Dominate

If you want more evidence, talk to legendary Nebraska center Dave Rimington, who became the first back-to-back Outland Trophy winner and most decorated center in the history of college football.  Nebraska’s strength program developed a portable chest press machine to help Rimington dominate defenders.

Strength and conditioning became one of Nebraska’s most compelling advantages because the Huskers had the most technologically advanced equipment, including 18 original transformers that were tailored to Husker specifications and developed to accommodate the best strategic processes to use that equipment.

As an associate athletic director in 2004, Epley oversaw the design and construction of Nebraska’s state-of-the-art weight room inside the Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex.  The showplace facility carries the name of the most decorated defensive lineman in college football history – Ndamukong Suh.

Wanting to get in shape, mascot Herbie Husker had a special request, asking Boyd Epley to put him in the department's Bod Pod.

Epley Praises Osborne and Colleagues Arthur, Gobel   

Three years ago, Florida State Icon Bobby Bowden told Sports Illustrated that “Nebraska fundamentally changed the way a football game is played because of its strength program.”  Epley agrees with that statement and gives the credit to Osborne for having the vision and recognizing the need for strength and conditioning as a science of its own.  Epley believes almost every weight room in America has been influenced by Husker Power innovations “in one way or another,” he said.  “I credit Mike Arthur for his expertise in designing strength programs and Randy Gobel for his expertise in facility development.”

Epley also recognizes 68 strength and conditioning coaches who can trace part of their roots to Nebraska.  The names populate and span across NCAA football powers and National Football League franchises.  Go to the very bottom of this link and you will understand why Epley’s wide-ranging influence met the requirement to be a Lifetime Achievement Award Winner from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.  His career has: 1) greatly contributed to the advancement and promotion of physical activity, fitness, sports and nutrition; 2) spanned the scope to touch countless lives through his work; and 3) left a legacy so large that Steve Bliss, a protégé, nominated Epley for the nationally prominent Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mike Arthur, left, and Randy Gobel were pivotal strength and conditioning partners who helped Boyd Eply launch Nebraska's program.

Epley's Nominator Found a Way to Leave His Own Legacy

“This has been a very humbling experience, and I want to thank Steve Bliss, who was a Nebraska assistant coach about the same time Mike Arthur was,” Epley said.  “It’s quite an honor for a strength coach to be recognized by the Department of Health.  I still remember when (former Nebraska offensive line coach) Carl Selmer hired Steve as the first head strength coach at the University of Miami.  I also remember getting a call from Woody Hayes while his team was practicing for the Orange Bowl.  He wanted to hire Steve as the first-ever strength coach at Ohio State, and he did.  Steve has a great legacy of his own as a strength coach, and I think all 68 of those names we list, who learned and trained at Nebraska, have left legacies, too.

“Somewhere along the line, Steve became the president of the organization that I founded and still work for,” Epley pointed out.  “Our careers have been intertwined for years.  We have great mutual respect and loyalty to each other.  Steve’s like Mike Arthur and Randy Gobel.  Without those two guys, we wouldn’t have had much of a program.  They helped us create a team.  It really wasn’t me by myself.  I was blessed to work with some very, very talented strength coaches who were assistants here before directing their own programs.  Mike Arthur and Randy Gobel were outstanding, and I’m glad they’re still working at Nebraska.”  

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