As Tennessee's new director of strength and conditioning, Aaron Ausmus is all about speed and movement. Every day before Tennessee football players so much as pick up a weight, they've already been through a series of drills designed to help them get from one point to the next a little faster than their competition.
While Ausmus, 34, preaches speed, he practices patience.
And when it comes to the University of Tennessee, his patience was rewarded. Twice, in fact.
"This is home to me," Ausmus said. "I've always been passionate about the orange. To be back now, it's unbelievable."
Ausmus's first go-round at Tennessee came in the mid-1990s, when he walked-on to the track team. A self-described late bloomer, Ausmus began throwing the shot put as a sophomore at nearby Campbell County High School. He had gotten into weight lifting, and the school's track coach noticed.
"The track coach was like, 'Hey, you should try to throw this steel ball.' I picked that up and took off with it," Ausmus says. "I'm a very competitive person. To me, that was an event that if I work on it hard, I'll see success. It's you versus a distance. I just kind of took off with it."
By the time he was a senior, he was good enough to continue his career in college. Tennessee was the only place he wanted to go, so Ausmus went to a UT home meet and struck up a conversation with throws coach Bill Webb, who later became men's head coach.
"I came over and begged Bill Webb just to please let me walk on," Ausmus said. "After he met me a couple times, he was like, 'Sure.' I had to kind of wiggle in. But I'm so glad they gave me the opportunity. I didn't want to go anywhere else. To me, if I was going to do this, this is where I wanted to do it."
Webb's decision turned out to be good for the Vols.
Ausmus - who eventually earned a scholarship - blossomed into a two-time All-American as well as the 1997 indoor national champion in the shot put.
After finishing his track career, Ausmus was recruited for a graduate assistant job on UT's strength and conditioning staff by John Stucky, a former assistant athletic director for physical development at UT.
Ausmus was a little skeptical at first, despite his interest in becoming a strength coach.
"My response was, 'I've never coached anybody,'" Ausmus says of that conversation with Stucky. "His response was, 'I don't care.' He said, 'I want your competitive attitude to rub off on these other athletes, and you'll pick up how to coach as you go.'
"That was 1998 in August, and then things have just snowballed and fallen in place. Here I am now, back in the same place but now as the person in charge."
That move has a lot to do with patience as well.
After his stint as a GA and two more years as a part-time strength coach, Ausmus became a full-time assistant at Southern California in 2002, where he first met UT defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and UT head coach Lane Kiffin.
In 2005, he became Orgeron's head strength coach at Ole Miss. But when Orgeron was fired after the 2007 season, Ausmus and his wife, Andrea, chose to remain in Oxford because the couple's second child had just been born. Ausmus took a job managing a wellness center at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford and waited for a strength job to open up following the 2008 season.
Ausmus was hopeful he'd get a chance to return to Tennessee in December, but perhaps his biggest involvement in the search was as a rumor.
The job eventually went to former South Carolina strength coach Mark Smith. But after a rift developed between Smith and the coaching staff, Smith was let go last month, paving the way for Ausmus to return to Knoxville after a brief stint at North Texas.
And since last week, it's been off to the races. Almost literally, given Ausmus' emphasis on speed and movement.
"The No. 1 thing I want to be great at is movement," Ausmus said. "I want to see athletes change direction. I want to see athletes get from point A to point B better than the other athletes, better than the opponent. My philosophy is if we're not working on some aspect of speed every day, our opponent is and they're going to beat us to the ball.
"We come into the weight room and train with a very fast tempo. Guys are sweating in the weight room. We're jogging in here from station to station. I want to emulate exactly how they're going to be out on the field."
Having worked with Kiffin and Orgeron before, Ausmus said his program is designed to compliment UT's fast pace on the practice field. He also stresses Olympic lifts that mimic certain football movements as well in addition to traditional lifts like squats and presses.
Although it's unusual for a new strength coach to take over in late June, Ausmus is making the most of his return to Knoxville.
"It is very weird timing," he said. "We haven't had a lot of time to sit down with the staff and talk about these philosophies and how-tos and what-ifs. It's been hitting it on the fly. We've been having short meetings with the staff about this is how we're going to do things today. We're trying to be as organized and effective as we can with as little time together as a staff as we can. It's been flying."
And, albeit unusual, it's also the chance he hoped for since leaving UT.
"With coach Kiffin coming here and now the opportunity, everything did fall into place," Ausmus says with a chuckle. "Very fortunate, very excited to get this opportunity, even if it is in June."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.