Ballou taking data-driven approach to strength and conditioning

David Ballou remembers the old Indiana weight room, though not altogether fondly.

“We were down in a little corner in Memorial Stadium, maybe 5,000 square feet,” the former IU fullback said.

IU’s new weight room stretches across 25,000 square feet on the ground floor of the stadium’s North End Zone complex, a dazzling work space that features nearly 150 pieces of equipment, more than 11 tons of dumbbells and more than 40 tons of free weights.

It’s Ballou’s headquarters now, smack-dab in the place the former Hoosier has always viewed as home.

Indiana officially named Ballou as its new football strength and conditioning coach earlier this month, hiring him away from Notre Dame after one year in South Bend.

“It’s good to be back home,” said Ballou, who lettered at IU from 1997 through 1999. “I consider this home. Grew up in Indianapolis, but was fortunate enough to get a chance to come to school here, play here. I met my wife here. We consider Bloomington our home. I love this university, so when Tom (Allen) called, it was a no-brainer for me.”

At IU, Ballou is looking to reinvent the way Allen’s team approaches workouts, emphasizing data and analytics in ways he hopes will lead to faster, stronger and healthier Hoosiers. The latter, in particular, is of utmost importance to Allen after Indiana endured a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball during the 2017 season.

Ballou first began taking an analytical approach to training during his 14-year run as head strength and conditioning coach at Avon, where he first became acquainted with Allen, who coached at Ben Davis.

For two years beginning in 2015, Ballou worked at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla.

IMG, a prep sports powerhouse, is known across the country for producing some of the best athletes, particularly in football.

There, he worked closely with Dr. Matt Rhea, an applied sport scientist and strength and conditioning expert who will be joining Ballou on IU’s football staff. Together, they mapped out a system for training athletes with applied data at the forefront.

“We’ll look left-to-right, left leg to right leg. We’ll put them in different performance tests, and we’ll measure power output form the left leg to the right leg. We’ll be able to tell if you have a 12 to 15 percent deficit in your left leg, then we’ll go find out why. Not only find out why, but we’ll know how to go fix it.

“When you go fix these things, you can get the ratio perfect and performance drives up. Then speed goes up. You’re able to stay injury-free. These are things, if not attacked, then you get to Week 6, 7, 8, 9 of the season and it starts rolling on top of each other, and now you’re injured.”

On top of training players, Ballou takes over a position that essentially functions as a third coordinator at the college level.

Because head coaches and other on-field assistants are limited in their dealings with players during the off-season, strength coaches often spend as much or more time with the athletes than any coach on staff. Overseeing workouts and off-season conditioning programs is a key component to the job.

Allen let go of former strength coach Keith Caton in December. Caton has since joined Syracuse’s staff as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

“I am the one responsible for this program,” Allen said. “The buck stops with me in all areas. When you address and evaluate at the end of the season where you’re at, you either have to fix it, or make a change. That’s on me. But I’m very excited about the individual we’ve added in that area, because it’s such a critical part of our development.”

And Ballou is happy to return to Bloomington and see the job through.

“I’ve always followed IU,” Ballou said. “I followed IU no matter where I’ve been. Indiana football, I’ve watched as many games as I could, but the chance to come back and have an integral role in helping this program be successful was a no-brainer to me.”

43 comments

  1. This is starting to look like a very exciting development, time will tell. Becoming known as a cutting edge strength and conditioning program can’t but help both recruiting and on the field results. Won’t happen over night but if they are on the right track, positive results will follow.

    Very refreshing to hear Tom Allen’s strident taking responsibility for all aspects of the program. I do not think he will hesitate to make whatever changes are necessary to give the program every opportunity to succeed. Once again, time will tell.

  2. This is all good a fine, but the most important aspect of Ballou coming to IU is that he and his wife want to be here, and they love IU, Bloomington and IU football. That’s HUGE! In addition to his obvious competence, that enthusiasm and devotion will pay dividends in the years to come. As for making IU’s players stronger, faster and less susceptible to injury, I’m sure his approach will make a difference. But in addition to excellent strength and conditioning, the best way is for IU’s coaching staff to recruit bigger, faster and stronger football players. IU has improved recruiting, but still does not have the size, speed, strength or depth of talent to compete with the big boys. Injuries will happen, and when they do, no competitive team can afford to have a major drop-off in talent/performance from the injured starter to his back-up. Allen and staff seem to be making strides in recruiting, and I’m interested to see how they fill out this 2018 recruiting class. There are a lot of talented players who have yet to sign LOIs. I hope IU gets a few more on signing day.

    1. I agree with your thinking but I don’t think we should dismiss the allure of a cutting edge approach in recruiting as well as on field performance. There is one these players are looking for and that is to make it to the next level. If IU is able to show a track record of exceptional player development, it will show up on the field and in recruiting. While it is certainly optimal to recruit bigger, faster, stronger football players, until you can show results recruiting will be challenging. Any edge you can find to help, such as a superior conditioning program, will certainly not hurt. One would think, nothing works better for show and tell on the recruiting trail; than taking lessor talent and upgrading them to a level capable of competing with what was once superior talent.

  3. Same O Same O. Hope and optimism for almost every team no matter the topic throughout the country. Definitely, it is for IU fb each and every season even before Keith Jackson bellowed out his first “Whoa Nellie.” Nothing wrong with it (last year I remember seeing T.A. on tv ads about David slaying Goliath). The question is who or what teams will show 7+ wins. Last year Purdue should 7 pretty solid wins and competitive in a few more.

    1. One can always hope, seem to remember a season 50 years ago when the impossible occurred. That being said, when you have the worst football program in D1 history there is really only one direction you can go. Never say it can’t get any worse, just say it is bound to get better. T.A. is doing the right things to move the program in the correct direction, whether or not it works, is never a sure thing when it comes to IU football.

      About the only thing guaranteed is Brohm could have come to IU instead of Purdue and it would have still been a 5-7 season. Never forget Bo McMillin’s sage pronouncement of IU being the graveyard of football coaches. Maybe one of these days someone will break that dubious tradition.

    1. Harv, just like to add that your puns are priceless (Roof’s ceiling, etc.) and make my day. Stay on your meds!

  4. can IU football fan please stop whining about being in the BIG Ten East division….It really does not matter, which division IU football is in. IU football has always been the butt end joke of Big Ten football. The only team IU football has beat in the West division of the BIG Ten the last seven years is Illinois (three times), Purdue (four times) and Iowa (once). For seven years the IU record against the West division is 8 wins and 16 loses. An this year will be no different. IMO if the current IU football team wins 4 or more games in the 2018 football season it will be a major success. With an unknown commodity at QB (Ramsey – redshirt SO, Tronti – redshirt FR, Penix – FR and Taylor – FR) for IU it will be very hard to find wins.

      1. I am an eternal optimist. Love Tom Allen but also loved the previous coaches recruits. Just hope Coach Allen’s are as solid. That being said, Reese Taylor is a good start. Absolutely a good player from Indiana who stayed home to help the Hoosiers. GO IU.

  5. Just like Crean gets the blame for the current basketball roster, Wilson is to blame for the fact that we can’t identify an obvious starting quarterback, and that all of the candidates are underclassmen.

  6. I am not trying to place blame on one coach or the other…I am just pointing out that this could be a very long season for IU fans, with 3 to 4 underclass quarterbacks. But adding to this problem is IU needs to replace 8 starters on defense (enough said)….just look at the problems Michigan had replacing 9 starters. An the IU offense is a total mess. IU two (Westbrook and Hale) returning starting wide receivers are returning from season ending injuries. An with this current wide receiver coach who knows who will be the starting wide receivers, but their is not much veteran depth at wide receiver either. IU is down to three running backs (Geist, Majette and Ellison) and one of them has never finished a full season. IU running back coach pinning all his hope on an incoming freshman (Walker-possibly should have been redshirt) that has never taken a Big Ten hit/snap/etc. The offensive line (veteran line now) a weakness to some last year might be the only strength on this years team. So, all I am saying is do not get your hopes up for a 5 or more wins this season.

  7. I really like Ballou’s approach to the strength and conditioning program. Bringing in Dr Rhea will help reduce injuries as many athletes play with imbalances in their bodies. The weak group of muscles are the ones that give out. Past performance is an indicator of future success, unlike the stock market game, so it is reasonable to expect this change with Ballou will pay dividends to IUFB.

  8. You’re right v13, of course. But the difference these guys make will be found on the margins. Ballou and Rhea, no matter how good they are, are not going to make up for many IU recruits being smaller, weaker and slower than their counterparts playing for power programs. Recruiting will be the key to whether Allen wins and survives long term, or whether he’s just like so many other coaches who have tried but failed to turn IU into a winning program. He can be the greatest X’s and O’s coach alive, have the best relationships with his players, and talk about “love” and “trust” all he wants, but unless he can recruit bigger, faster, stronger guys than his predecessors, he’s not going to turn IU into a winner. It’s just a fact of life in college football these days.

    By the way, you may have seen the IndyStar article in which Allen admits to being open to having a quarterback who is a graduate transfer come and play for IU next season. Check it out. No candidates yet identified, but Allen admitted that he’s searching.

    1. Hopefully in three more years we can have some hard data to chew on and evaluate. By that time he will have his players and coaches in place. Sink or swim at that point. IU desperately needs a long-term coach and Allen would be an ideal man to make it happen. Loves Indiana and happy to be home. Makes for,a good story. We shall see.

    2. Po,
      I going to take a different approach on this. Others may have a different take on this, but I too think V13 has a point many are missing with Ballou’s approach. Where I differ from you perspective is regarding the players needing to be bigger, faster, and stronger when recruited. I don’t know if this slipped past a lot of people or not, but early on Tom Allen mentioned looking for a specific body type in his defensive players, not just bigger, faster, and stronger.

      I don’t think we should let this tidbit be overlooked. Everyone knows the bigger & faster, but do we think about a specific body type for a specific way the game is going to be played, ala Tom Allen style? He has mentioned he loves former wrestlers for their grappling ability in the trenches. If they have the right body frame, could the right strength and conditioning program create the finished product?

      Not sure if any other programs out there are taking the Ballou approach, would like to know if so. If not, may be pipe dreaming but could be witnessing something revolutionary. Remember when the Southern and West Coast teams started going with much faster players, then bigger and fast. It revolutionized the game and the B1G has never recovered due to so much of their season being played in very inclimate weather which can neutralize speed. Therefore in northern climates size and strength is key, not totally a speed game. Unfortunately most of the bowls and playoffs are played on a fast track, but for B1G you have to be a good mudder to win your conference.

      Think this might even carry over into what Archie is doing on the Basketball side of the world. He has a specific style of playing the game. Look at the specific style of player he is recruiting to play Archieball. We saw on the defensive side of the ball with Northwestern what pack line defense can do to an opponent using players not specifically recruited to play such a style. Imagine what can be done with players specifically recruited for such an approach.

      We may be seeing both the football and basketball programs doing this. May not be coincidental both made major changes in their strength and condition programs.

  9. It’s kind of funny. I participate in a similar blog about Arizona athletics. They just replaced Rich Rod with Sumlin, and the Wildcat fans are drinking a lot of cool aid right now. They’re saying that Sumlin is going to bring in Top-10 recruiting classes at Arizona starting in the class of 2019, just like he did for a few years while at A&M. Talk about delusional! So many of those fans have no idea that recruiting for A&M is much, much easier than recruiting for Arizona. Stadiums that are filled to capacity for every home game vs. a stadium that is 30% to 40% empty for most home games. Competing in the SEC vs competing in the weak Pac 12. Prime-time TV games against Alabama, LSU, etc., compared to night games that no one living in the Eastern time zone is awake to watch. Being located in Texas where a coach can fill every recruiting class without leaving the state, vs recruiting is a sparsely populated state and competing with another in-school that plays in the same conference. One school that boasts that Bear Bryant used to coach there vs a school that has never won a conference championship. And lastly, a school where the football coach is the highest paid employee in the University vs a school where the basketball coach gets paid twice what the football coach gets paid. Any of that sound familiar?

    1. Po,
      I think you are probably correct regarding Sumlin. With the resources available at Texas A&M, should be perennial top ten team. More resources than at Alabama! Kind of reminds me of when IU hired Gerry DiNardo after LSU had fired. If you can’t win big at LSU, you can’t win anywhere. Been in the heart of SEC country far too many years, could see the train wreck coming with DiNardo and will likely be the same with Sumlin at Arizona.

  10. Don’t get me wrong, guys. I think IU hiring Ballou and Rhea is good news and will have a positive impact on IU’s program. Usually, when you can hire a guy away from a top-20 program like ND, you’re getting a very good coach. I hope they are very successful at IU and will help Allen build a winner. But that does not change my opinion that Allen will sink or swim based on his ability to recruit better players. If I were IU’s AD, I’d go to Allen and say, “what do we need to do to improve recruiting? How do we help you cast a wider recruiting net? How do we help you sign bigger, stronger, faster players?” Then, Glass should have a meeting with his staff and ask the question, “how do we increase attendance at home football games?” That would/should be a top priority for Glass. Yes, the improved football facilities will help. But at best, we’re just now catching up to other Power-five conference teams after 40 years of ridiculously inadequate football facilities (weight room, etc.), and it’s unlikely that IU’s new and improved football facilities will ever surpass the facilities at OSU, MI, PSU, etc., not to mention the palatial facilities built at places like A&M, Clemson, and Alabama. Ballou and Rhea are pieces of the puzzle, but it’s a big puzzle.

    1. Here’s a better question Po, why is IU athletic department budget so minuscule in comparisson to their Power 5 conference competitors? The budgets generally come from Alumni support. Hard to compete long term when your budget is less than half your competitors.

  11. Inclement weather….? Doesn’t the college football season start in late August now? The majority of the football season is played September thru November. It’s beautiful weather….It’s football weather. It’s Indian Summers. It’s the wonderful Canadian air clean and refreshing. It’s comfortably cool fall days and just slightly chillier evenings perfect for pumpkin patches and trick-or-treaters.
    Big Ten football concluded well before we had any real bite of harsh winter weather.
    Let’s not get too analytical….IU Football has fierce recruiting competition without the advantages of huge nearby population centers. We are surrounded by legendary programs who have had legendary coaches. Places where simply the name on the front door pulls in 90% of the top talent from the Midwest. Ohio State, Michigan, and ND….all basically in our already empty and sparsely talented backyard. Penn State added to the conference to add more rungs on a very tall and treacherous ladder; a ladder now even more challenging a climb from decades of fighting the tradition-rich sucking the talent well dry.

    This isn’t about weather. This is about roster size requirements, depth and breadth of quality recruits, storied reputation…and the challenges of luring kids away from programs where they are far more assured to get spotlight and recognition in playing for the best the Midwest has to offer.

    70-80 roster spots to fill on a college football team? I’m not sure of the exact number allowed…..I do know you need at minimum 22 starters plus quality backups …plus special teams positions to fill. Now factor in the nearby legendary programs filling about 300 more spots on their total rosters(that’s just in the Midwest alone).
    You have to be an imbecile to compare that with filling a college basketball team in a basketball rich state with five quality performers, possibly one or two superstars, and a couple solid bench players. You have to be an even bigger imbecile to compare the challenges at the feet of Wilson…(and now Allen) to that of a former basketball coach at a place we can still say…”Because it’s Indiana.” Five roster spots in a basketball rich state and you’ve already landed one of the best centers in the nation.
    How distorted can one be to compare that to the challenges of 40 solid roster spots and many solid backups on an IU Football exempt of relevance for decades? If only we could blame the inability to get five solid basketball players to play more than one weekend in NCAA tournament because it was too cold outside…for anything to heat up in March.

    When’s the last time a football recruit looking at ND, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State…was told he should play football at IU “because it’s Indiana”…?

    1. H4H,
      You deviated slightly off the reservation on part of that one. I used the illustration of weather in terms of how the teams from warm weather regions turned football into a speed game. It was a revolutionary development in football. Yes, weather is still a factor in northern climates. The wet and cold weather of late October and November does change the game. You still have to go to Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota which are affected by mid to late fall. Even with advanced turfs there is still an effect.

      You need to become more familiar with the speed game in warmer climates, even at the high school level. When it becomes most apparent is when a freak cold or wet weather front comes through. Have seen superior speed teams beaten by slower more plodding teams. You have to witness it first hand to understand. Doesn’t affect the pros so much because they play all over the country. Does affect college and high school as they are more regional.

      I do agree with your assessment of the talent pool problems for a school such as IU. I think it is very important to note the amount of players TA is pulling from talent rich states such as Florida. This should not be underestimated in it’s value. Many of these overlooked players by the majors can still contribute mightily to a program such as IU. Take a look at the future superstars in the pros who played for small southern schools that were overlooked by the dominate programs. Some of the all time greats of the game came out of such programs.

      This being said, in order to do this there will have to be money in the recruiting budget to travel to talent hotbed areas. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to IU football, but if a reputation of developing unnoticed talent can be gained, you have an outside chance. The coaching staff’s connections to talent hotbed areas of the country should not be overlooked. Hopefully those connections can be exploited.

  12. There is a direct link between football revenue and a school’s athletic budget. Michigan putting 105,000 people in their stadium for every home game generates a lot more money than IU putting 42,000 people in Memorial Stadium. We should at least be able to fill a stadium with a capacity of 53,929 seats for each home game. It’s ridiculous that we don’t. And winning football and basketball teams generate donations from alumni and fans. IU has not had a winning football team in a long time, and of course basketball has not inspired donations during the last two years. And maybe IU needs to do a better job of eliciting donations? Maybe they need better professional fund-raisers. My wife and I have donated money to IU every year since we graduated (I withheld my donation for a few years after Knight was fired), but my wife continued to give, regardless.

    1. You know…we may not yet fully appreciate what impact the Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology wil have. Perhaps it will be along the same lines as Phil Knight opening his seemingly bottomless checkbook for Oregon. Certainly, it should make recruits hoping to one day work in the media field take a second…or third…look.

      Or maybe I’m grasping at straws.

    2. PO, you’re right about the fund raising (professional or otherwise). If IUFB is ever going to have $$$$, it will have to come from donors. No doubt UMich.’s home game draw of more than 2x IUFB’s affects the bank account, but IUFB is never going to fill Memorial Stadium week in and week out, no matter how good the teams it might field. “Because it’s Indiana . . . .” Look at N’western. NU has won 27 games in the last three seasons and not an upward blip in attendance (less than IUFB’s despite being in a metro area of eight million people). Why? “Because it’s Northwestern . . . .”

      1. Northwestern will never fill their stadium consistently because they don’t have a fan base that cares. Granted, the IU fan base pretty much only cares about basketball but, IMHO, they would get behind a winning program.

        Northwestern could win an NCAA Championship and they still couldn’t couldn’t draw fans.

        That’s just not who they are.

  13. Big Ten Football is so powerful, it elicits the spectre of Tom Crean. Again. Again. Again.

    (Correct use of the word “elicit” contain in this post)

  14. Cuban was very generous in making his donation to IU, but he’s far too young to write the massive checks, like T. Boone Pickens’ $280 million donation to Oklahoma State’s Athletic Department, or Phil Knight committing to donate over one billion dollars to Oregon and Stanford (well over $300 million to Oregon Athletics). Knight donated $10 million for an indoor football practice facility, $60 million for the renovation of the football stadium, $60 million for an academic center, $100 million for the basketball arena, and $10 million for a Lacrosse field. After he started writing those eight and nine-digit checks to Oregon, he sat some of his Kine Executives down and said, “I want you guys to come up with some ideas on how we can help the University of Oregon improve the ability to recruit better student-athletes for the football program.” That’s how you convert a losing culture into a winning culture. The rest is history.

    1. Or Red McCombs at Texas (whose current goal is to ruin Colorado).

      There is somewhere in between guys like you and me and Red McCombs. Maybe the new media center can put us somewhere in the middle.

      That would be different.

  15. Lee Majors attended IU for one season on a football scholarship…He should at least be able donate 6 million……..to stripe a parking lot.

  16. Suds, IU QB looked great taking final snaps at end of Eagles and Vikings game heaving the fb into outer space after final play in celebration. Suds plays were the only ones I watched in the whole game as I just happened to land remote on that channel.

  17. I really enjoyed the comments in this thread. We all see IUFB differently but IUFB to become a factor in the nation. It would be nice if big IU donors cared more about football and send some of their money for Football upgrades. IU has a tough row to hoe in the B1G East, our schedule is rated #7 in the Nation for 2018 [UM is #1 with 6 B1G programs in the top 10] and having money helps in the battle to win more games. I really appreciate the improvements in facilities but I would like more effort into drawing fans to IUFB games. On another board, there are some great ideas to get students and more fans to the IU Spring game so recruits can see enough people care about our football team. Fred Glass needs to have one member of his staff task to improve attendance for football games as it would benefit the whole program.

    1. I confident that there is more than one athletic department employee who does nothing but work in improving football attendance just as McDonald’s has more than one person trying to figure out how to sell more hamburgers.

  18. That is already taking place. Some successful. Some not so successful. That’s how paid attendance went from 30k’s a decade ago to 40k’s of today.

  19. Agreed. Paper the house, if only for optics, until people actually want to pay for the nosebleed seats. Provide local high school FB teams a bus and charge ’em five bucks a lad for a team-building outing to come to Bloomington and watch a B1G game. But someone once posted here, without detail, that there are conference or NCAA rules about giving away tickets. Anyone know anything about that?

Comments are closed.