By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Now that Super Bowl XLV is history, labor issues will dominate news about the NFL. Unless a new collective bargaining agreement is in place by March 4, owners are expected to lock players out of all team facilities.
If that happens, St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long will return to his hometown to work out at the school where he was an All-American in 2007. He would not be the only former UVa star to do so, Long figures.
“I think a lot of guys will hopefully want to come back to Virginia and train somewhere they know and with a guy they can trust,” Long said last week, “and around guys they have great relationships with.”
Evan Marcus recently returned to UVa for a second stint as head strength-and-conditioning coach for football, this time under Mike London. That’s a big reason why the McCue Center weight room looks so inviting to Long, a graduate of nearby St. Anne’s-Belfield School.
“Every time I get a chance to see him, he’s one of those guys you’re really excited to just sit down and talk with and catch up with,” Long said. “We all have a lot of history with Coach E, and he continues to have a great interest in what former players do.
“We’ve already spoken, and he’s really excited about opening the weight room up to former players, and Coach London’s excited about that, and making it a place that’s still home for us.”
Several of the former Cavaliers now in the NFL, including linebacker Clint Sintim and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, already train at UVa periodically throughout the year.
Marcus, whose official title at Virginia is director of football training and player development, was the Atlanta Falcons’ head strength-and-conditioning coach in 2007. He then held that post with the Miami Dolphins in 2008, ’09 and ’10.
He spent four seasons at UVa under London’s predecessor, Al Groh — 2003, ’04, ’05 and ’06 — during which Marcus worked with such players as Long, Marques Hagans, Alvin Pearman, Heath Miller, Chris Canty, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jason Snelling and Branden Albert.
Long, who played as a true freshman in 2004, trained under Marcus’ successor, Matt Balis, in ’07.
“I was really lucky to have two great strength coaches at UVa,” Long said. “Coach E was there at the beginning. I already knew how to work in the weight room. I always approached the weight room and strength and conditioning pretty seriously, even in high school, but he taught me how to do it correctly, and how to hone that energy. And if you have the desire to succeed at it and work hard at it, he can really push you to your limit, and he can be a leader. He’s not just a guy that is writing down your workout and you follow it rep for rep.
“It’s almost like having another great coach. It is. It’s like having another leader in the building, and with him, it’s like having one of our own back, which is really great. I think for him, hopefully it’s a long-term thing. I know Charlottesville’s a great place for him and his family. He could easily still be coaching in the NFL, but he wanted to come back here, and he really enjoyed his time here. So I think that says a lot.”
As chance would have it, Long’s strength coach with the Rams is Marcus’ mentor, Rock Gullickson.
“He’s been great, and also it’s just easy to kind of know what we’re doing, because I did it for three years [at UVa],” Long said. “It’s the same type of stuff, tapered down a little bit to suit 30-plus-year-old guys. We can’t push it quite as hard. We have to be a little smarter.”
“Not me,” he said. “I’m not 30, but there are some older gentlemen in the locker room that can’t be flipping tires. Well, we do flip a couple tires, but you have to be a little bit smarter. You’re not developing as much as you are maintaining and keeping it up at that level.”
College football “is a more relationship-driven business,” Long said, “and I think [Marcus] thrives in that setting, where he can really play a part in developing a young man. And that’s where a strength coach is most important, in college.
“If you’re in the building, you’re going to see your strength coach. That’s throughout the year. There will be periods where you don’t see your position coach or your head coach as much, but you are going to see your strength coach all the time, and I think that’s as important a relationship as any relationship in the building.
“Because especially in college, your physical development is very, very important, and getting off on the right foot with that guy and working hard and trusting each other is a big part of it, and I think Coach E is a guy guys can trust. His motives are get you better and to watch you succeed. He doesn’t have any other motives.”
Marcus, 43, took over at UVa last month for Brandon Hourigan, who recently was hired at Bowling Green.
After leaving for the Falcons in January 2007, Marcus stayed in touch with many of the players he had coached at UVa, including Long. “And when I heard he was coming back, I was extremely, extremely excited,” Long said. “It was like, ‘Wow. How great is that? That’s the perfect hire.’ It couldn’t be better.”