IOWA CITY — Chris Doyle sort of envisioned this all the way back in 1985 when he was a freshman at Boston University.
Sort of. In a way. All except the money part.
In one of his classes, he was assigned to write a paper about what he wanted to do for a living, and he decided to write about possibly becoming the strength and conditioning coach for a college football program. He spoke to BU’s strength coach, Mike Boyle, who steered him to Mike Woicik, who then held the same position at Syracuse University.
One of Doyle’s questions was: How much money do you make? Woicik, who has since won six Super Bowl rings working for the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, told Doyle he earned $30,000 a year.
"I went back to Mike Boyle … and said ‘So I can be a strength coach and make what teachers make?’" Doyle said. "He said ‘Yeah,’ and I said ‘That sounds awesome.’"
Doyle now makes a lot more than any teacher.
He pulls down $800,000 a year as the strength and conditioning coach for the Iowa football team. He has been the highest paid strength coach in the country for the past several years. He earns as much as the program’s defensive coordinator and more than the offensive coordinator. There are at least 30 FBS head coaches who earn less.
Doyle shakes his head as he thinks about it now. Then he looks you in the eye and you can tell he’s being totally sincere when he says the money really isn’t his primary reward.
"Mike Boyle got into it because he enjoyed working with people and kids, and Mike Woicik did the same thing," Doyle said. "And that’s still why we do it. …
"It’s certainly one of the most rewarding things that we do. We get to work with 18-year-old kids full of hopes and dreams and great work ethic, that come from great families, and they want to see what they can make of themselves. We get to take part in that process, and that process renews every year."
Doyle first thought about being a strength and conditioning coach growing up in Boston as the son of a fireman.
But after his playing career as an offensive lineman at Boston University, he didn’t immediately get into the field. He spent a few years as a line coach at Holy Cross before becoming the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Wisconsin for two years and the head guy at Utah for one year.
Then Kirk Ferentz hired him at Iowa in 1999, and he has spent the past two decades having a profound impact on the Hawkeyes’ success.
The job has changed considerably through the years. There have been all sorts of technological advances, new techniques, tweaks in nutritional information. Doyle and his staff now even use technology to monitor athletes’ heart rates and sleep habits on a daily basis.
He now has four full-time assistants working under him, as does pretty much every FBS program.
"But it’s still about relationships, it’s still about fundamentals and it’s still about coming to work every day. It always will be," Doyle said. "There isn’t any amount of technology or analytics that’s going to make up for the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves and go-to-work basics."
Almost every player who has worn a Hawkeye uniform in the past 20 years views Doyle with a certain amount of reverence.
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Bettendorf’s Pat Angerer will tell you he never would have made it to the NFL without Doyle, who he feels helped him mentally as much as physically.
Many of the athletes Doyle has helped develop still come back to work with him in the off-season. Marshal Yanda has appeared in seven Pro Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens since playing at Iowa, but he’s still back in Iowa City every spring working with Doyle.
Even athletes who have worked with Doyle for a relatively short period of time have an appreciation for what he does.
"His program is pretty awesome, just pushing kids and getting the best out of them," said redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum, who gained 20 pounds of muscle in his first year on campus and is now squat-lifting 580 pounds.
Iowa isn’t able to recruit bunches of 4- and 5-star athletes as programs such as Ohio State and Michigan do so it needs to take 3-star guys and walk-ons, and sculpt them into football players. And no one is handier with a chisel than Chris Doyle.
The Hawkeyes regularly take high school tight ends and engineer them into NFL-ready offensive tackles. Players who arrive on campus as 200-pound running backs sometimes walk out as 280-pound defensive linemen.
In addition to knowing how to mold bodies, Doyle is also a master motivator, who spews quotations from everyone from Winston Churchill to Hunter S. Thompson.
Within the past few weeks, he has taken to Twitter to recite words of wisdom from Seneca, C.S. Lewis, Sun Tzu, Epictetus and Ronald Reagan, things such as "No great thing is suddenly created" and "No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity."
Other schools have taken note of how much a guy like Doyle can impact their program, although only four or five other Big Ten schools pay their strength and conditioning coaches even half as much as he gets.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said at the Big Ten football media day last month that the person most responsible for any success he has had is his strength coach, Dan Nichol, and he said he hired Nichol for one reason: Chris Doyle told him to.
"I think he’s the best in the country, and I’m not afraid to say that," Fleck said of Doyle.
Nichol, who got his start as an intern at Iowa, is one of dozens of Doyle protégées who have moved on to bigger and better things. There are 30 head strength and conditioning coaches across the country who once worked for Doyle.
"I don’t know a lot, but I know enough to hire people that are smarter than me," Doyle said with a smile.
Ferentz doesn’t really believe there are many people smarter than Doyle. He frequently has said he thinks the success Iowa has had during his 20-year run as head coach is more attributable to Doyle than any other person, himself included.
From that standpoint, you kind of wonder if Doyle isn’t underpaid.
Not that the money really matters much to him anyway.
"Every year we have a group of 35 new kids come in and we get to work with them and we get to see them fast forward five years and 10 years and 20 years and see what they’ve done with their opportunities," Doyle said. "And that’s really rewarding."