COLUMBIA, Mo. — The 2007 Big 12 football championship game had just ended in San Antonio, Texas. Confetti fell on the victorious Oklahoma Sooners. On the Missouri sideline, senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams sat on the bench, flooding his face with tears.
Pat Ivey, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, approached the co-captain.
“He’s looking up at me,” Ivey said, “and he’s like, ‘Coach, what’s wrong? We did everything right. No one works harder than us. We’re in shape. We’re tough. We’re physical. We’re strong. Nobody’s stronger than us. What’s wrong? What’s missing?’
“And I didn’t have an answer for him. I was like, ‘I have no idea. I don’t know what more we can do.’ But I said I would find some answers.”
It took him six years, but Ivey believes he’s equipped for that question now more than ever. In December, Ivey earned his Ph. D. in sports psychology. One of the most revered figures in Gary Pinkel’s football program is now, officially, Dr. Ivey.
But Ivey’s value around Mizzou football transcends titles. With a mix of innovative training, technology and thinking, Ivey has become perhaps the most indispensable member of Pinkel’s staff, especially during the summer when football coaches are prohibited from working directly with players during offseason workouts.
Like every year, the Tigers turn to Ivey May through July, as the 41-year-old shapes their bodies and minds before another season kicks off.
“I don’t think there’s a better guy you’d want your kids to be with during their college career,” former Missouri offensive lineman Elvis Fisher said.
A.J. Ofodile, one of Ivey’s closest friends since their days of little league football in Detroit, takes the praise a step further. Ivey’s meticulous work with Mizzou athletes — Ofodile calls it “science with barbarism” — creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, Ofodile said.
“Someone believes in you and then you believe in yourself,” said Ofodile, the head football coach at Columbia’s Rock Bridge High School and Ivey’s high school and Mizzou teammate. “It’s not coincidental and it’s not purely physical that all of these unheralded guys (at Missouri) end up being NFL players. … It’s happened over and over and it speaks volumes to developing players physically and mentally, too.”
At MU, Ivey uses cutting edge means to help players on the field. For example:
For several years, his staff has used a vision training board to develop the ocular muscles that surround the eye.
—Players undergo urinalysis tests during workouts and practices to monitor their hydration levels. After LeBron James had to leave an NBA Finals game last month because of cramping, Ivey noted that MU athletes rarely — if ever — experience similar issues.
—Players wear heart rate monitors to help Ivey’s staff detect when their bodies have recovered from a workout or practice. The trainers can script the next day’s workload accordingly.
—During preseason camp this year, MU players will wear GPS devices to track their every movement on the field and measure the stress each workout puts on their bodies.
—MU works closely with physical therapists from the Missouri Orthopedic Institute and its DARI (Dynamic Athletics Research Institute) motion lab. Using infrared cameras, the lab measures an athlete’s body movements and can help project potential injuries.
All of which means Ivey’s job has changed drastically since he took over the position at his alma mater a decade ago.
“We don’t even call it strength and conditioning coaches,” he said. “We call it athletic performance now. We do yoga. We do pilates. We’re doing sports science.”
None of that was going on at Mizzou when Ivey lettered as a defensive end from 1993-95, after which he bounced around some NFL rosters. In 2001, he returned to MU as the team’s assistant director of strength and conditioning, then spent two years at Tulsa as the football program’s strength coach. He returned to Mizzou in 2004 as director of strength and conditioning. In 2007, he was promoted to assistant athletic director for athletic performance.
Along the way Ivey sought knowledge beyond barbells and wind sprints. He enrolled in MU’s sports psychology doctoral program and worked closely with former MU track coach Rick McGuire, who heads MU’s sports psychology wing in the athletics department. As a professor in the program, McGuire builds his teachings around what he calls Positive Coaching, a philosophy based on building relationships.
While earning his master’s degree in the program, Fisher took McGuire’s classes alongside Ivey. Around the team, he could already sense McGuire’s teachings taking root.
“I could personally see a difference between the teams in 2007 and 2008 to where we were at (in 2012),” Fisher said. “And not only the players’ mindset but the coaches’ mindset.”
Those changes are felt elsewhere around MU athletics. The department has hired Debbie Wright, an MU clinical psychologist, to work with athletes about anger, depression and other mental health topics.
“Forty percent of all our incoming students on campus have had some sort of mental health experience in their past before they got to Mizzou,” Ivey said. “Student-athletes are more at risk because they’re risk-takers. That’s something that we’re working on right now.”
Ivey serves on MU’s Men for Men committee, made up of male employees in athletics and other campus departments to serve as role models for athletes. They discuss tolerance, diversity, bullying and other issues affecting players. Ivey credits those discussions for the environment that greeted defensive end Michael Sam last year when he told the team he’s gay.
“We had already laid the foundation,” Ivey said.
Within the fabric of that foundation, Ivey believes he’s closer to tackling the unanswered question Williams asked him in 2007.
“Bottom line is to get better, you’ve got to change,” he said “You have to grow.”