Matt Gildersleeve: Made for This Moment
Ever since I was 16 years old, being the head football strength and conditioning coach for a Power Five school has been my dream.
Sounds hard to believe, I know, but truthfully, this has been all I’ve ever wanted to do.
From the get-go, the process about this profession captivated me.
The weights are completely unbiased—45 pounds are 45 pounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, purple, or blue. You have to pay for the progress you get, and you can’t cheat it. There are no shortcuts.
You get what you put in.
Those are the kinds of things I stand for as a coach and a human being.
Whether it’s on the football field or in life, that’s the kind of mentality that rewards you with success.
The former rival
I learned at a very young age in this industry that changing kids’ lives is what fulfilled me. Seeing them transform into successful adults motivates and drives me every single day.
It’s easy to do all of that when you have the kind of relationship I have with coach Lance Leipold. If you asked me to put a dollar amount on it, I don’t think I could even if I tried. I got to witness firsthand the success he had at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six national titles.
Unfortunately, my team was on the other end of it.
I played Division III football at the University of Mount Union, and we were 57-3 in all of the years I was there. Would you like to take one guess who the three losses came against?
Yes, it was against our old arch-nemesis Wisconsin-Whitewater and coach Leipold.
He knew I was interested in getting into the strength and conditioning profession. So, we kept in touch, and I started working after I finished playing.
Man, it’s crazy to think that was over 10 years ago.
The one thing that drew me to Leipold was the relationship he had with his wife and kids. I looked at that and gravitated towards it very quickly.
The core values he lives by—how he trusts, how he empowers, how loyal he is to his people, and how he takes care of his people—are things I believed in. They’re things that matter to me more than I can put into words.
When you can connect on a human level, it makes connecting on a coaching level so much easier. I’ve always felt like we’re in this together, you know?
He always uses those words too—”us,” “we” and “ours” instead of “me,” “my” and “I.”
So when he says we’re in this together, Kansas, you can believe him.
It really is from the heart.
The three-phase process
Establishing that togetherness and building those relationships has been the primary focus in the first few days with the program here at KU.
It’s a process of meeting with the players and every department to figure out what we can do now. Coach and I would have meetings from about 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and we wouldn’t really see each other much throughout the day.
By the time night rolled around, I’d be sitting in his office and we’d basically debrief for a few more hours. One of those nights, I remember telling him, “Man, this has been a crazy few weeks, huh?”
And he looks at me and says, “It’s been five days, Matt.”
Five days? I couldn’t believe it. Those first days are basically a blur with you spinning and collecting data and trying to formulate a plan.
However, most importantly, we have a plan of action, and we’re going in the right direction. Now, we’re doing the fun stuff and actually making a difference.
And it all starts with our three-phase process.
The first step is defining the culture to the players, and then we’re going to teach them how to do it. Lastly, it’s all about demanding it.
The latter one is the hardest, but it’s also the one that wins you games and helps you win in life. Ultimately, our goal is to create a player-led football team. I’m not going to be the one playing on the field on Saturdays. We want to create an environment where the players are used to seeing each other leading. We want to make that routine on Saturdays.
That has to be the foundation of what we do.
All or nothing
But I’d still put the relationship above everything else.
My main message since arriving is the fact that I don’t want these guys respecting me because I have a title attached to my name. I don’t want their respect because I’m the director of strength and conditioning.
I want them to respect me because they see the way I treat my wife. I want their respect because they see the father that I am to my kids. I want it because they see the coach that I am.
We are going to tap into every possible resource we have and push, claw, scratch, and find ways to get things done that haven’t been done before.
I don’t know how to partially invest in something. It’s not in my nature. If I’m in, I’m in all the way. When I give my heart, you have the whole thing. I truly absorb the mentality that if you’re going to do all of these things with me, then you really are a part of my family.
So these guys are going to get coached hard by me, and we’re going to ask a lot of them. We’re going to coach them harder but love them even harder. That has been the mentality from the start. The relationship isn’t just a puzzle piece to plug in. No, it’s the whole puzzle.
You can’t have success without relationships.
I truly believe God puts you where you’re supposed to be. He has been preparing me for this moment ever since I was a 16-year-old kid. I’ve always known what I wanted to be, and through hard work and dedication, I went out there and made it happen.
And it all started in a weight room—bit by bit, inch by inch, foot by foot, and yard by yard. It’s the one place where you can’t cut corners.
The one place where you get what you put in.
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