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More college football programs investing big money in strength coaches

When Jeremy Pruitt was introduced as the head coach at Tennessee last year, he spoke about changing the culture of the program, to turn the Volunteers into a “big, fast, dominating, aggressive, relentless football team that nobody in the SEC wants to play.”

And part of that cultural evolution came in the weight room.

Before long, Pruitt had hired Craig Fitzgerald away from the NFL’s Houston Texans, where he had been the head strength and conditioning coach for four seasons. Tennessee gave Fitzgerald a three-year contract worth $625,000 annually — a 67 percent increase over what the school had paid for his predecessor. Then it spent another $660,000 to rennovate the weight room.

“We were prepared to make an investment in that area,” athletic director Phillip Fulmer said last spring.

With each passing year, the agression — and spending — in hiring strength coaches like Fitzgerald continues to grow. Since 2016, when USA TODAY Sports first started tracking their annual compensation, the number of strength coaches making more than $500,000 per year has increased from three to eight. And 17 others now have an annual compensation north of $300,000.

Iowa’s Chris Doyle continues to lead the group, with an annual compensation of $725,000 in 2018. He currently makes more than all but two head coaches in the Mid-American Conference, and he’s in line to receive a raise to $783,000 in 2019 based on a provision in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s contract.

Elsewhere, schools continue to put an emphasis on hiring the right strength and conditioning coach — and they’re willing to invest significant resources to ensure that such hires are made.

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