Meet college football's first $1 million strength coach: 'He is the team'

STILLWATER, Okla. — Three years ago, Madi Madory confidently approached a man many college football stars respectfully fear.

Madory had just unceremoniously fired her bocce partner for the next day’s Special Olympics competition. Instead, she hoped to team with Oklahoma State University strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass.

In a weight room deep inside Boone Pickens Stadium usually filled by larger-than-life athletes, Madory was far from an imposing figure. The 27-year-old stands just 4 feet 6 and weighs 96 pounds. She has Down syndrome. She possesses a smile that fills a room.

But she is also an avid powerlifter and fierce competitor, even perhaps fearless.

“She’s just kind of a vibrant personality,” Glass said.

Glass, of course, agreed to partner up. But the solidly built coach had no idea what bocce ball was or how to play it. He wasn’t even quite sure how to properly pronounce the Italian word.

“It’s like yard bowling,” Madory assured him.

The next day, Glass walked onto the turf of Boone Pickens Stadium and competed in bocce, learning as he went.

Why did he do it?

“She’s just somebody that’s easy to connect with,” Glass said. He thrives on building relationships. It’s part of what makes him special.

Glass is the highest-paid strength and conditioning coach in the nation, according to USA TODAY Sports’ annual review of coaches’ compensation. In February, the 61-year-old signed a five-year contract that pays him $1 million annually.

Oklahoma State strength coach Rob Glass
Oklahoma State strength coach Rob Glass

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The deal didn’t just make Glass the first football strength coach at a public school to reach that benchmark; it did so by a wide margin. Ohio State’s Mickey Marotti is making just more than $820,000 this season — the second-highest total since the strength coaches’ pay survey began with the 2016 season.

Yet it’s a unique attachment with a small woman who loves bocce ball that shows the true heart of Glass.

“He is absolutely a teddy bear,” Madi’s mom, Angela Madory, said. “There’s just no other way to describe him. He’s just the kindest person. He loves what he does with these special athletes. He’s so committed to it.”

For more than three decades, Glass has made a living being the tough enforcer and developer of college football players. He’s the man who builds unbreakable bonds with Heisman Trophy winners, NFL draft picks and walk-ons.

In the past 12 years, only Oklahoma has won more games in the Big 12. The Cowboys have won two Fiesta Bowls, one Big 12 championship and fell just inches shy of another.

Glass helped build stars from Russell Okung to Dez Bryant to Brandon Weeden to James Washington to Chuba Hubbard.

“He’s the biggest factor in the success we’ve had since I’ve been a head coach, bar none,” coach Mike Gundy said. That’s why Gundy insisted on a big pay raise for Glass earlier this year. Gundy believes that for Oklahoma State to continue climbing, it must show it’s serious. Rewarding Glass is a big step.

“I’m flattered, humbled that the athletic department would think that much of me,” Glass said. “From a professional perspective, I’m glad because hopefully it will help all the strength coaches try to move the needle a little bit and create an awareness for what we can do for an athletic department.”

Glass is more than the football strength coach.

He’s Oklahoma State’s assistant athletic director of athlete performance, putting him over the entire strength and conditioning department. He was also recently appointed to the athletic department’s senior leadership team by second-year athletic director Chad Weiberg.

“I felt like it was very important because of the time he spends around our student-athletes to have his voice in the room as we are making our decisions,” Weiberg said.

Amid a world in which schools and agents are constantly eying what their competition is getting paid, Glass’ margin of salary is impressive.

Just based on percentages, Glass would make close to $2 million more than Marotti if compared to the top salary of Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s base pay of $10.7 million to the next highest-paid coaches – Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Georgia’s Kirby Smart – who are both within $450,000 of Saban.

The market for strength coaches may well adjust upward before long, but the third-highest-paid strength coach this season is Florida’s Mark Hocke at $750,000, with four others making $710,000 or $700,000.

In 18 seasons with the Cowboys, Glass has been the behind-the-scenes architect of a highly successful Big 12 program that has not had a losing season since 2005. Gundy calls Glass the most important person in the program, including himself. It’s not hyperbole.

Glass’ impact is immense, from establishing trust to forming the framework of athletes year-round.

“Body by Glass,” players proudly label his methods.

“He is the team,” redshirt senior defensive end Tyler Lacy said.

Glass objects to such a notion.

He’s still the small-town kid making it big at his alma mater. He’s a man who hangs in the background as he assists others.

And he’s a builder of people, finding ways to help them improve in any way.

“To me, the biggest piece is because he is who he is and he’s been where he’s been, nobody wants to let him down,” Oklahoma State strength and conditioning assistant coach Gary Calcagno said.

‘A different avenue’

Thirty-three years ago, Oklahoma State offensive line coach Brad Seely delivered a warning to a young up-and-coming coach.

“Rob, if you go in that weight room, you’re never going to come back out and get back on the field,” Seely said. “You’ll get labeled as a strength coach.”

Glass paused to consider the words.

He was just a kid from tiny Newkirk in northern Oklahoma with a population just north of 2,000 people with a dream to coach, possibly at the high school level. Glass had already graduated from Oklahoma State. He had been a student assistant and graduate assistant for baseball and football. He helped recruit Gundy and became a confidant for Barry Sanders.

Legendary strength coach John Stucky and then Jerry Schmidt, who now runs Oklahoma’s football strength program, often pulled him in to help with strength and conditioning workouts. So Cowboys coach Pat Jones offered him the head strength job full-time after the 1988 season, replacing Schmidt.

Glass had to take it. He also had a lot to learn, and fast.

His degree was in business, not training Division I athletes. So Glass went back to school. He took biomechanical classes. He took anatomy and kinesiology courses. Then he passed his certification test. The next step was figuring out what in the world he needed to do to achieve success.

“I’m not probably the smartest guy, but I was smart enough to know what I didn’t know,” Glass said.

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He called the best trainers around the country.

Al Miller with the Denver Broncos. Mike Woicik with the Dallas Cowboys. Glass visited them and immersed himself to learn.

“I was just trying to be a sponge,” Glass said.

There were big challenges. Oklahoma State had just been placed on a four-year probation by the NCAA that included loss of bowl games, live television and scholarships.

Each step forward the Cowboys took under Glass was second-guessed. He constantly re-evaluated his methods as struggles mounted on the field. But he believed in connecting with players. His methods would work.

In 1995, he left for the University of Florida when OSU hired Bob Simmons as head coach and Schmidt, who had just been hired at Florida, offered an assistant strength coach position. Looking for more high-level exposure, Glass chose a new destination to grow.

“The big thing for me is I love working with kids,” Glass said. “My ability to affect and work with those kids on a daily basis year-round, that’s one thing I really enjoyed about it, even though it was a different avenue than I originally thought it might go.”

‘He was incredibly authentic’

Danny Wuerffel certainly remembers the food.

A “mean” pot roast and gravy. The potatoes were wonderful.

“Which happened to be one of my favorite meals,” Wuerffel said. “Anytime we could get that, that was fantastic.”

In 1996, Wuerffel had the specialty from Laurie Glass quite often. Wuerffel — who would win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Gators to a national championship that season — and receiver Chris Doering often visited Glass and his wife’s home.

They found peace there. Barry Sanders had discovered that during his 1988 Heisman Trophy season when he often snuck off to Glass’ apartment to escape the spotlight. Wuerffel found the same relief. With Glass, Wuerffel was just another guy. And the food was a bonus.

“For me, that was such an unusual experience for a young person to be that recognized and so much going on,” Wuerffel said. “Rob and Laurie were a very grounding force for me, just normal people that treated me like a normal person that helped me stay grounded when so many things in my life were chaotic and very unusual.”

Oklahoma State strength coach Rob Glass
Oklahoma State strength coach Rob Glass

Glass had to be tough as he sought ways to make each athlete stronger and faster. But he also had to connect with them in a way most could not. He might yell at a player and push a little hard to get more out of him. But he often had that player off to the side of the workout later, hand on his shoulder, mentoring in a kind way.

“He was one of the best, that’s for sure,” former Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. “He had the ability to push the guys without being mean. He had the ability to let them know, the better condition they’re in, the better chance they have to be successful.”

With the Gators, Glass had access to things he only dreamed of at Oklahoma State. More money. Better facilities. A training table of food to properly nourish athletes. Massage therapists for players.

All enriched Glass’ methods and broadened his scope of what was possible.

He worked with future NFL stars and All-Americans. He trained Olympians, including members of a relay team that featured Carl Lewis.

“He was incredibly authentic,” former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “That was one of the main reasons people were drawn to him.”

And wins came in bunches. During Glass’ 10 seasons, Florida was 96-30 with a national title.

“We were king of the hill at that time in college football,” Glass said.

But after two coaching changes, Glass was offered a new adventure following the 2004 season. He had a chance to go home, this time better prepared to shape his alma mater into a winner.

He had reached the pinnacle at Florida while proving his methods worked. Oklahoma State was looking to rebuild quickly. It had a new coach in Gundy and a deep-pocketed booster in Pickens with an aim to boost the program in new ways.

Getting Glass, who made $150,000 upon his return, back to Stillwater was the first step.

“That was kind of my personal challenge, if you will,” Glass said. “I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to national championship games and win SEC championship games. I thought the real challenge will be to go down to Oklahoma State and see if we can move the needle.”

A championship mentality

Each morning, Glass sits in the same chair at his desk inside the weight room of Boone Pickens Stadium.

He arrives well before the 6:30 workout begins. His truck is always in the same parking spot. His brown hair is perfectly parted on the left. His demeanor is the same as the previous day. So is his message to each Oklahoma State football player.

“Get your ass out there and get to work,” Glass often tells them.

Consistency is crucial. He must set the expectation.

Glass has missed what many believe is just one workout in the past 18 years. Being actively present when expected is paramount to the development of a 140-man football roster.

“There really is no magic program,” Glass said. But whatever Glass has touched for Oklahoma State has been charmed.

“He’s been that way all his life,” Gundy said. “You could take him and say, ‘OK, we need you to run Devon Energy.’ Devon Energy stock would go up. That’s just the way it is.”

Gundy recognized that in 2005 when he took over his alma mater. So he sat down Gary Calcagno, then the head strength coach, and explained to him that he wasn’t fired. But Gundy was bringing in someone different and Calcagno would benefit by staying as an assistant.

Glass became the first hire by Gundy. And he remains the most important.

“I told Coach Glass right off how little I knew until he came in,” Calcagno said.

Glass brought a championship mentality. If a player did something incorrectly, Glass stopped the workout and made every player start over. He brought ideas from Florida — the training table food among them.

And he got full power to redesign Oklahoma State’s weight training facility.

Housed under Gallagher-Iba Arena then, the weight room was gutted. New flooring and equipment followed. Glass then designed a new state-of-the-art weight room inside the football stadium. All funded by T. Boone Pickens, the oilman whose remarkable donations reshaped the program.

Pickens had helped lure Glass back to Stillwater with his financial backing and vision. But Glass had to make a promise.

Make sure no athlete regrets choosing the Cowboys. The facility must rival the powerhouses. “He gave us that opportunity,” Glass said.

Glass ran with it.

With his behind-the-scenes guidance and ability to work with the players throughout the year, the Cowboys started winning. When Weiberg returned to Oklahoma State more than five years ago as an assistant athletic director, he was heavily involved with the football program.

He had heard about Glass. He admired Glass from afar, too. But seeing is believing.

“Sometimes I think what is misunderstood about that position is it’s listed as strength and conditioning but it is so much more,” Weiberg said. “For us, Rob becomes a big part of who is reinforcing the culture, building the culture and weaving the culture throughout the program.

“We just wanted to make sure he didn’t go anywhere.”

‘He’s a cool dude’

Glass and Madi Madory are together on Boone Pickens Stadium’s turf, wearing Special Olympics bocce ball bronze medals. The smiles are pure.

Madory had given him a picture and Glass wanted her to sign it.

Then he put it on his desk, not far from a football gifted to him by the Detroit Lions after they selected Cowboys linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez in the NFL draft last spring. That ball means a lot, signifying another success story on the football field.

The picture perhaps means more.

When Glass returned to Oklahoma State, he remained in the background as he helped others, opting to avoid the spotlight. But he also opened the weight room to the Special Olympics each May. He had done the same in the 1980s.

Madi Madory celebrates her bronze medal in bocce ball with partner and Oklahoma State strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass.
Madi Madory celebrates her bronze medal in bocce ball with partner and Oklahoma State strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass.

He puts on a first-class event, complete with an electric atmosphere of hype music, along with Cowboys players spotting and handing out medals.

“There’s a purity in those kids when they compete and their exhilaration when they lift the weight,” Glass said. “Sometimes — and I’m getting philosophical — our profession, our sport, I worry about it because with all the NIL, social media, the Twitter, all that BS.

“And these kids come in here and they accomplish something they’ve been working all year for, and they get that medal and they’re just pumped. It’s so rewarding.”

Madory’s success is a special treat to Glass. He was instantly drawn to her when he first saw her lift weights nearly a decade ago. “Her smile,” Glass said.

Then he saw her lift weights. With her small stature, she wowed those around.

“She’s a warrior on the platform now,” Glass said.

He was taken aback when he learned the bocce partner fired was Madory’s mom, who is her team’s coach.

But the decision was easy for Madory. “He’s a cool dude,” she said.

Like Madory, Glass is a competitor. That’s why he’s taken bocce seriously. In 2019, Glass arrived for the event by walking onto the field from one of the tunnels near an end zone. Dressed in a white Oklahoma State polo, gray jeans and tennis shoes, those who knew him were confused.

Then he joined Madory. The duo won a bronze medal. “You’re my partner from now on,” Madory told Glass.

That was that.

Last summer — after a two-year hiatus of the games due to COVID-19 — Glass was in gym shorts and a T-shirt on the turf next to Madory. They won gold. Next year, the plan is for the unlikely pair to repeat.

“They just clicked,” Angela Madory said. “He’s (Oklahoma State’s) hidden secret because he’s so good at his job. He’s so good at his job.

“But he’s such a cool dude just to hang out with.”

Contributing: Lance Pugmire

Follow The Oklahoman's Jacob Unruh @jacobunruh and USA TODAY Sports' Steve Berkowitz @ByBerkowitz

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meet Rob Glass, Okla. State's $1M man, the highest-paid strength coach