They simply know Cochran and what he is all about.
Here’s the panel:
- Josh Niblett, Hoover High head coach (State titles in 2004, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
- Jerry Hood, Leeds High head coach (led Clay-Chalkville to a state title in 2014)
- Rush Propst, former head coach at Hoover High and Colquitt County (State titles in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2014 and 2015)
Niblett was a former strength coach at the college level at Jacksonville State University. He lettered at Alabama for three seasons under legendary coach Gene Stallings. He routinely serves on the staff of the Under Armour All-American Football Game every January.
He’s won the big games at the highest of profile jobs in Alabama’s largest classification. Yet with that, the one-to-one level in which he relates to his players stands out. The weekly “Men of Will” bible studies he holds with his players in his own home is a bedrock of his programs. It made sure that his players left the Hoover program with high character and core values. Not just state championship rings.
Don’t let the lack of titles next to Hood’s name throw the perception off. He’s one of the finest leaders of men this correspondent has had the chance to cover. He brings a unique overall insight into the administrative, business, coaching, psychological and teaching aspects of the position. Very few can check all the boxes that he has across his career.
With Propst, there’s probably nothing more than needs to be said than this: The polarizing and wildly successful coach has dominated the largest classifications in Alabama and Georgia.
He’s done it in front of MTV cameras. He’s done it with critics and watchdogs hawking his every move. He’s drawn his share of headlines. Both good and bad.
But when it comes to breaking down teams and the game-day calls it takes to win a game there are few minds at any level of football that would be better. When it comes to building programs and winning titles, he may have a reputation as a hired gun. But he also gets it done. Over and over again.
These men have sat next to Cochran at coaching clinics. They’ve eaten crawfish with him. They’ve picked his brain to help shape their weight training philosophies for their programs.
What did they have to say? They came up with a few buzz words and phrases.
Lion tamer. Ball coach. Pioneer.
Let’s take on each of those questions down one-by-one.
Who is Scott Cochran?
Josh Niblett: “Being around Scott and watching him do his work and just sitting in his office and talking to him I mean he’s an awesome strength guy and he knows a lot about it. But the thing is the guy is a ball coach. When you are a ball coach at some time in your career, it is time to coach ball. Because you don’t get any younger.”
“You want to be able to get on the field. This was an opportunity for him that he felt like he couldn’t pass up I’m sure. I’m excited for him. I’m so happy for him because I think sometimes that strength and conditioning guys just kind of get labeled as that. Then all of sudden, nobody thinks they know any ball. But what people don’t understand is the reason those kids can move like they move and have ball skills and the reason they can move laterally and linearly so well is a guy like that. The reason they play tough and aggressive is not as much how you get coached up during the week. It is that strength and conditioning coach working year-round”
Propst: “He’s a pioneer in strength and conditioning. That’s number one. With number two, he’s as good a person as you will see. He’s always been very cordial to people. He’s always been good to people. It seems like to me he’s got all the time in the world for you. That’s how I sort of saw it. I know he’s busy as heck but the guy always sort of opened the playbook up to me and several coaches who asked him questions about things. That’s Scott Cochran to me.”
How will Scott Cochran help Georgia?
Hood: “What Georgia is getting that most people don’t know is he probably has a whole lot of experience coaching from a film perspective and from a studying perspective. If he has been the strength and conditioning coach for the football team, then he knows how to get a group to do what they need to do. So the on-the-field coaching part will be fine.”
“He’s had a strong interest in that for some time. So that’s the number one thing that I think here. I think Georgia is going to be very surprised in how well-versed he is in special teams.”
Niblett: “There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be great at Georgia and greatly missed at Alabama. For sure.”
“Strength and conditioning coaches are now not just about ‘Hey let’s go in and get three sets of squats and go get some power cleans’ anymore. It is not about the content of what you are doing. It is the context of what you are doing and why you are doing it. The better you can explain that to the kids is how you can help them add value to themselves. You are adding value to their futures. He’s doing an unbelievable job of adding value to these kids where they understand what it takes physically and mentally. That guy went out of his way to make sure those players understood where they needed to be mentally so they could be where they needed to be physically.”
Propst: “Obviously he brings a wealth of knowledge even more so than Kirby [Smart] did when he came over as far as knowing the ins-and-outs of Alabama. Because he has been with Coach [Nick] Saban for 13 years. He’s got a wealth of knowledge about the ins-and-outs of the University of Alabama. So he’s going to know everything from A-to-Z and Kirby does, too.”
“But Scott brings even a different perspective. I think it helps Georgia in bringing that toughness and that edge I think Scott had at Alabama. I think Scott has been the guy that sort of brought that edge to Alabama. I think now that Georgia gets that.”
“So I think in the fourth quarter next year Georgia is at Alabama. They are playing on Sept. 19. If we’re in the fourth quarter with six minutes to go and whatever. I think Georgia will have something they haven’t had in a while and that’s how to finish. I think he brings that much to the table now. … Because it is going to be new. We’re going to see the difference. You and I will be both be there on September 19. If I’m standing next to you at that game I am going to look at you with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter and I am going to say ‘Here is where we are going to see if Scott Cochran made a difference at Georgia and did it hurt Alabama’ with all of this. That’s when we will all know.”
Hoover High coach Josh Niblett has won multiple championships at the highest level of high school football in Alabama. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
How will Cochran transition to being an on-field coach?
Niblett: “I think he will make an awesome transition. The one thing that I always think is if you aspire to be on-the-field then you are always going to try to sharpen your edge. No matter what your job description is. To give yourself that opportunity so when you get that moment you are going to make the most of it.”
“I’m sure that he has been preparing himself for this moment for a long time because he wants to coach on the field.”
Propst: “I know he’s not going to be over strength and conditioning. He’s going to be over special teams but he was involved with special teams at Alabama.”
“He didn’t coach on the field but he was involved in it. A lot of people are saying it is going to be brand new to him this time. It may be the first time he has run a meeting there for that but you know he runs meetings. He has run big meetings. He’s just taking it from the weight room to the film room.”
“I don’t know that [moving to an on-field coach] is a big difference. He’s always been able to control players. That’s another big plus that Georgia is getting. The guy knows how to control players. I just have got to believe at times you have got to have I guess the politically correct word I need to use is lion tamers maybe. I think every staff at every program needs lion tamers because you are dealing with kids that need direction and sometimes tough direction. I think Scott has always been a guy that has been able to be that guy that coach leaned on at Alabama. So that, to me, is what Georgia is gaining.”
“Scott brings energy, man. He brings positive energy. I think he is going to affect every position group with the kids that are going to be playing for him on special teams. I really do. I believe he is going to be that extra 15 percent they need to get over the hump. I really believe that. To me, this hire could be monumental for the University of Georgia.”
How can his background make him a better on-field coach?
Niblett: “I think a lot of folks need to know that the strength and conditioning coach is a different deal these days. It is everything. Everything from socially and spiritually and physically and mentally you are the guy for those kids. You are the guy. You are there. You are with those guys from the staff more than anybody in the building. You have more of an impact on that person and player than anybody else in the program. I don’t care who it is even more maybe than the head coach.”
“The thing about it is when you are at your lowest as a player and at your highest, he is there. But not only that. When you are having to work your hardest or not work your hardest, the guy that is there is going to be the strength and conditioning guy. He’s the guy who can make you do things you never thought you could do. That’s his job. He’s the guy you trust and the guy you will talk to about anything.”
“I don’t know if any player can say that about everybody that has ever coached them. I’m sure there are coaches out there who are able to have the relationship. But I just know from a strength and conditioning coach and being a mentor. Because now the strength and conditioning guy is also the culture guy. Culture now is so very important.
“When you and I were growing up did you ever hear the word ‘culture’ about a football team? That’s because it wasn’t ever an issue. You worked hard. You treated people right for the good of everybody and it was all about winning championships. So for now, not only does the strength guy have to get them stronger but he has to get them mentally stronger. He has to use psychology on them. I just think you have to have the right guy. There’s no doubt. That’s the first hire you have got to have before you hire anybody if you are going to be a head coach at any level.”
Scott Cochran does want to be a head coach one day. He has aspired to be an on-field coach for several years now for Nick Saban at Alabama. (Georgia football/Twitter)
Will Cochran succeed as a recruiter for Georgia?
Hood: “There is no doubt he will be a success. He is a personable person and he is that way 24/7 and it is not ‘Hey it is show time and we’ve got to crank up the energy and I’m going to bring a little extra now’ for the cameras. He’s that way when we are eating crawfish at the coaching clinic. He’s excited and you want that on your staff. That is a great hire for Coach Smart.”
“He will bring that and he will bring that to the living room as a recruiter.”
“He’s a known commodity so when he walks in and they hear this voice they will automatically think — if they know anything about Alabama football — that they will know the voice right away. They will know who he is. That’s a leg up right there for him but he has the personality and the sincerity to coach kids in my opinion. He’ll be just fine in the high school hallway. He’s a likable guy. He’s willing to share with high school coaches which I appreciate. I just think he’s awesome.”
Niblett: “There’s no doubt. Kids today man there are two things they want. They want to be disciplined. They want discipline. Kids want disciple. But they also want a guy who can get their juices going. Kids today love high energy guys now. Because kids today are not as high energy as they used to be. I just think it is important that you bring that to the table.”
“Some people like it and some people won’t like it. But the thing I loved about Scott is that was who he was. He didn’t try to be somebody that he wasn’t. You didn’t try to hear him make all of his ‘Get loud’ stuff when he would do all of that. You didn’t hear that and say ‘Man, that guy is trying to be somebody he is not’ and I mean that was him. He was the same way. That was him. He’ll be genuine and I promise you those guys will play hard for him.”
“Those guys played hard for him at Alabama and he wasn’t even their position coach. Or a coordinator.”
Propst: “He will bring that same energy to recruiting that he does to the weight room. Positive energy. A lot of positive energy. That’s a big attribute for him. I understand there is a learning curve with stuff, but to be quite honest with you I think he will be well-received by the high school coaches. He’s got connections everywhere in Louisiana and Alabama and everywhere he has ever been. He’s got good connections. I don’t think that is going to be an issue. He’s going to have to learn how to maximize your time and maximize your evaluation and who you go see and how much time do you spend at this school. He’ll have to do all of that stuff. I get all that. Recruiting is about relationships, though. He’s got that.”
Leeds High School coach Jerry Hood has worked as the offensive line coach at the Army All-American Game in the past out in Texas. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
What was your first reaction when you heard the news?
Hood: “Being around it and around Alabama and around Scott a little bit it was not big news. Those of us who have been around for a while know that Scott Cochran had an interest in special teams for many years now. That’s not really a new thing for him as far as being interested and trying to learn all that and do what he could do to help and that kind of stuff.”
Niblett: “Did not surprise me. From a head coaching standpoint and thinking about Nick [Saban] and I’m thinking in the back of my mind about the loss. You can sit here and say for Alabama ‘we’ll get the next-best guy’ but that guy has been with you for a while now. What? 13 years? When you’ve had a guy be with you that long you can lean on him. That guy can handle a lot of things to help you make sure the culture is right in that program.”
“You trust that guy more than anybody. Scott was the only guy there — between him and Jeff Allen [also a 13-year trainer for Saban at Alabama] — that he’s the only guy that has been there the whole time since Saban got there. There’s something to be said about that, man. There’s something to be said for attrition. There’s something to be said here that you’ve done everything you can to try to keep a guy with you. I think Scott has been an unbelievably loyal guy to the whole University of Alabama community and family and I just think that at some point in time you have to do what is best for you and your family.”
“This is something I guess that he has always wanted to do and I guess that he didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel where he was going to get this same opportunity at the University of Alabama. I think he just felt like ‘Hey, here’s a chance and this is what I have always wanted to do’ but it didn’t surprise me because I just know him and I just know he’s also a ball coach. He’s not a guy who doesn’t know anything about football. He knows more about football than most. It would surprise you how much he knows. I just think that is why he is going to be very effective.”
How will this affect Alabama?
Hood: “Sometimes change is good. The number one thing here is if you’ve been doing the same philosophy of a strength training program for a number of years sometimes it is okay to bring in someone with different ideas and see how that goes for a while. As long as the core values don’t change. The extremely hard work. The “Fourth Quarter” program which will test your mettle and get you ready. Coach Cochran is dynamic and no doubt one of the best, but I don’t see any physical drop-off happening for Alabama. They’ve been exposed to Coach Cochran and then number two sometimes different ideas may help foster growth.”
“I don’t think it is a loss for anybody. I think that the number one thing that I took out of it when I heard it was hearing a whole lot of Alabama fans on the radio around here talking about either they are mad at him for the move or they can’t believe Kirby [Smart] tried to get him or all these different things. Doomsday type things. The one thing that I know and you know is that Coach Cochran has been around Coach Saban for so long that they are more than just boss and employee. They have a fine relationship like Coach Saban and Kirby [Smart] have in a private way. Coach Saban wants what is best for Coach Cochran. Coach Cochran has paid his dues and turned down other lateral type jobs to stay at Alabama. That’s showing the loyalty but at some point, the guy’s dream is to be ahead football coach so he’s got to get on the field and coach.”
“I think Coach Saban supported that publicly and I think privately as well. I think that’s the misconception of all of this. It is definitely not that ‘Hey, Coach wants to hold him back forever just so Alabama can win and he doesn’t really care about people’ here because Coach Saban does really care about people.”
“You can see some evidence of people who have left before and then came back to Alabama to coach like [current outside linebackers coach] Sal Sunseri. Those kinds of people. I think it is good for both. I think it is great for Scott Cochran and I don’t think Alabama will miss a beat.”
Propst: “Does it hurt Alabama? I don’t know yet. I’m torn on that and I’m going to tell you why. As good as Scott is and as good as what he has done for 13 seasons sometimes strength coaches play out. It is the same old message. The same song and dance. Sometimes it gets stale and old. Stale and old. Even in my program. It seems like I changed up my strength coach at my program and it paid off for me. [His former strength and conditioning coach] was the best I’ve ever been around. I think the best I’ve ever seen, including Scott Cochran. This guy [was] really good. He was with me at Hoover and came with me to Georgia. But he left after the 13th season and I changed it up and gave it then to another guy that had trained under him. He did change it up some and we won our first state championship in Georgia.”
“I think this move is good for both schools. Possibly good for both. The main thing is it is good for Scott Cochran because I know his dream. Scott wants to be a head football coach. I get it. I would be, too. He’s worked his tail off and I’m talking about worked his fanny off here now. I think him going to Georgia was a great move for him. I’m proud of him. I’m glad he did it and it gives him an opportunity to coach and one day be a head football coach. Let’s don’t stop understanding that.”
“The second thing is it helps Georgia in so many different ways. But the other thing I think of it on the other end is it may help at Alabama. People are split. I talked to 10 people probably in the last two days. I’ve had five people tell me that it will hurt Alabama. I’ve had five people say the same thing I have said. They think it may help Alabama. That remains to be seen.”
What makes Cochran unique?
Propst: “The key to coaching, in my opinion, is to have the lion tamer mentality but be very compassionate and the kids love you. When the kids love you and care about you and feel good about you but then you are that lion tamer, then that is a unique unique thing. Not a lot of people have that. A lot of people don’t have that.”
“I can get into a kid’s face as well as anybody and chew one and rip one and then turn around and that same kid will be at my house eating dinner that night. I think there’s a fine line to that, to me, and that’s where the great coaches become great and the good coaches just stay good and the average coaches never get to good or great. You have to look for those guys but there are not just a lot of them. Kirby [Smart] is one of those guys and Jeremy [Pruitt] is one of those guys.”
“The player has got to like you but they have also got to fear you just a little bit, too because they know you mean business. That’s the key to discipline. That’s it in a nutshell.”