ATHENS -- Joe Tereshinski leans forward, and his tone is direct. He starts to pound the desk in front of him. At one point, his keys drop to the floor, but he doesn’t seem to realize it. He keeps talking.
This man, who has been around the Georgia football team for more than three decades, is the one being asked to bring the most-needed change to the program. After the worst season in 14 years, head coach Mark Richt did not change his offensive coordinator or his defensive coordinator. Richt just walked over to Tereshinski, a former Bulldogs player and longtime staff member.
“He just said, ‘Joe do you want to be my strength coach?’ ” Tereshinski said last week, recalling the short job interview.
The answer was yes, and since then the critical task of making Georgia players bigger, faster and better-conditioned -- and perhaps save Richt’s job -- falls to Tereshinski.
“The foundation of any successful program is set in January,” said Greg McGarity, who as Georgia’s athletics director would have to make the call on Richt’s job status after next season. “The whole tone for the year is set in your strength and conditioning program, day one. And so I can say there’s no question that the strength and conditioning is really the foundation of a program, of a successful program. ...
“It’s not the glamorous position; it’s the job that’s in the trenches. The strength and conditioning staff is around your players more than the coaches are.”
McGarity has known Tereshinski for years, as has practically everyone around the football program. When Richt suggested replacing Dave Van Halanger with Tereshinski in December, McGarity called it “an outstanding move.”
Van Halanger had been Richt’s strength coach for all 10 seasons at Georgia.
“With Dave, I think some people view this as failing,” McGarity said. “It’s more or less I’m thinking (it’s) getting people in the right seats on the bus, so to speak. And when Mark made the decision, it made sense to me.”
Many wondered if it was enough of a change. Tereshinski already had “strength and conditioning” in his job title, and his bio in the 2010 media guide was on the page after Van Halanger’s.
But in speaking to people around the team, as well as Tereshinski, it’s clear he wasn’t in the weight room very much. His duties the past few years were closer geared to video coordinating.
So Richt feels elevating Tereshinski provides the fresh start the team apparently needs. The Bulldogs had a weak running game this year, often struggled on run and pass defense and lost leads in the fourth quarter. Those are all symptoms of a team whose strength and conditioning was falling short.
During an interview last week, Tereshinski was asked if he felt Georgia had been pushed around on the line the past few years.
“Yes I do. The film doesn’t lie,” he said. “I’m the video coordinator, I see every play. Yeah, we were not winning the line of scrimmage. And our goal now is we’re going to see how far we can develop these kids from their hips to their glutes to their quadriceps.”
Unprompted, Tereshinski brings up the elephant in the room -- that Richt’s job, and that of every staff member, may be on the line in 2011. Then Tereshinski defends Richt and the way he tries to help players off the field.
But the on-field results are what will almost certainly dictate Richt’s future.
So Tereshinski was asked if he feels some pressure. After all, so many are looking at him, the one major change the program is undergoing this offseason. He pauses a second -- a rare pause in a direct, constant conversation -- before answering.
“It is a very critical year for the program, for the University of Georgia, OK?” he said. “It is very critical for our coaching staff. We all wanna stay here, we love this, we want to do our job, we want to win, and we want to do right by our kids.”
Tereshinski grew up in Washington D.C., and attended a prep school located on Military Ave. His father played and coached with the Washington Redskins after playing at Georgia. Tereshinski originally committed to North Carolina, only went to Athens on a visit for his parents -- and then ended up staying there. He graduated in 1977 and since 1982 has held the job title of assistant strength and conditioning coordinator.
But since Van Halanger arrived from Florida State in 2001, Tereshinski’s role has mainly been in the film room. Dealing with video has, Tereshinski said, kept his mind sharp. And all that time reviewing game and practice film, he added, gave him a clear view of every position.
He leans forward again.
“So I do see where we were getting beat. I do see where our weaknesses are,” he said. “And so that’s what we are attacking. We are attacking where we’ve been weak.”
So what does all that “attacking” entail? Tereshinski doesn’t want to get too specific because he wants to keep the training habits in-house. After his first workouts in January, players started tweeting about how strenuous the workouts were. Backup quarterback Hutson Mason tweeted, “I call this a good hire! Hard work aint enough!”
But Tereshinski told the players to cut out the tweeting. He also scoffed at the players reacting to how tough the first few workouts were.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” he said.
The strength staff is allowed eight hours per week with each player. The NCAA also mandates two days off per week. Typically they’ll take Wednesdays and Sundays off.
If players do miss reps, they’ll be forced to come in on Saturday to make it up. A few sources say that in past years, players were able to come and go a bit more easily.
Tereshinski describes his own role as hands-on. The staff works with three groups at a time, by position, between six and eight players in each group, each overseen by an assistant strength coach -- or Tereshinski himself.
“If there’s one group that’s not working hard enough, next day they’re mine,” he said.
His tone is one would expect of a strength coach.
Tereshinski is also utilizing his recent video experience, setting up cameras on groups if the staff thinks someone’s taking it easy.
“If somebody’s not getting every single rep, well that little camera don’t lie,” he said.
Once again, his tone is direct. He isn’t smiling.
The strength training does vary by position, obviously. But for most players the main emphasis will not be on amount of weight lifted, but the number of reps.
Tereshinski isn’t doing this alone. Former Georgia tailback Thomas Brown is on board as a full-time assistant. John Kasay Sr., who was Vince Dooley’s strength coach, will be a part-time assistant.
During his playing days, Brown gained the unofficial status as pound-for-pound strongest player in Georgia football history. He was one of the 10 to 15 percent of players who work more than asked. So after a couple of years in the NFL, when Brown offered to come back to Georgia, Tereshinski said he took Brown on his staff “in a heartbeat.”
Brown credits Van Halanger for being a mentor and helping the program to three SEC championship games. Still, Brown agreed that there might have been some complacency in the weight room.
“Coach Van ... knows what he’s doing. He’s regarded as one of the greatest college strength coaches in history,” Brown said. “But I think maybe the move had to do with guys getting too comfortable with him and needed a change. And they weren’t responding to him as well as they needed to be.”
So it was a change for change’s sake -- and Georgia football may need that to work above anything else this offseason.
Not that the man in the position feels that pressure.
“I look at it this way,” Tereshinski said. “When December comes, I want to be able to sit in my chair and say I did everything I could in my power, in my mind and my heart and my soul, to make the Georgia football program better than I found it, when it comes to the strength and conditioning area.”
Tereshinski’s tone is still direct and remains stern.
His presence may or may not turn around the fortunes of Georgia football. But it is clear that change has come in the weight room.
“We are not Olympic training anymore,” Tereshinski said. “We are training for football.”