by Adrienne Hare
Western Oregon athletics serves its student athletes with the addition of a director of sports performance. When most people hear “Strength and Conditioning Coach”, they automatically picture a towering 6’ 6” man with a crew cut, greasy arms, and bulging muscles. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger during his body building days. Not at Western. If you dare brave the sweaty aroma of the weight room under McArthur Stadium, you’ll find Cori Metzgar-Deacon, a 5’ 7” blonde female, who gives the Terminator a run for his money.
Metzgar-Deacon is the new director of sports performance, in charge of strength and conditioning for Western Oregon Athletics’ 13 NCAA Division II teams. The decision to add the position was vital according to athletic director, Daniel Hare, “First, it is a safety issue as student-athletes who are in good shape and properly trained are much less likely to experience injury. Second, I have observed that athletic programs at all levels are simply better when they have an excellent sports performance program and director. It‘s doubly important when you have limited financial resources.”
So what exactly does a director of sports performance do? “What we do is more than having athletes move some steel.” says Metzgar-Deacon. “Strength and conditioning is based on science so we have to make sure that our programs have the correct and most effective method of training for each sport. We plan, program and implement all facets of training.” This includes flexibility work, injury prevention, strength and power development, speed and agility, as well as offering nutrition guidance. “We develop student-athletes into a whole athlete, mentally and physically.” “Coach” Metzgar, as she is called by her students, takes care of over 400 student-athletes year round.
“We probably spend more time on a yearly basis with these athletes than their sport coaches do, they see us 3-4 days a week for 4-5 years. Every sport is different in their energy demands, power development, and injury preventions so I need to make sure I’m addressing all those demands,” she states. She is also tasked with the responsibility for scheduling each team in the only non-recreational weight room on campus that is shared with students enrolled in health/P.E. classes for credit. She maintains and orders equipment for the weight room and collaborates with athletic trainers to be sure that all athletes in a rehab phase due to injury are rehabbing appropriately.
Pictured: Strength and weight training classes (above and below), WOU soccer team members (left).
Metzgar-Deacon comes loaded with the experience and expertise necessary to build and run WOU’s program. With a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Fort Lewis College and a master's in physical education from Western Michigan, she has quite an impressive résumé. Metzgar-Deacon arrived at WOU having spent the past five years at Washington State University where she served her last two years as associate director of strength and conditioning. She has also spent time at Colorado State University as head assistant strength coach, as well as Ohio State University and Western Michigan University. She is an active member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (SCCC) and USA Weightlifting.
Not only is Metzgar-Deacon WOU’s first sports performance director, she is one of only two women at the NCAA level who are responsible for the entire athletic department. Like any trail blazer, the journey comes with its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way. “I have definitely run into sport coaches who at first didn’t want me to work with their team because I was a female, but once I sat down with them and talked about my experience, my knowledge and my passion for this field, they realized that it’s not about male vs. female, but about coaching and motivating.” says Metzgar-Deacon. She has been kicked out of a football weight room because she’s a woman, been sexually harassed, disrespected, cursed at and put down all because of her gender. “I chalk it up to insecurity and don’t take it personally. I concentrate on all the good things that have happened to me over my career and all the athletes I have reached and helped, and it makes it all worth it. If I had quit every time I got yelled at or called a nasty name, I definitely would have been done a long time ago.”
The job also comes with overcoming discrimination hurdles in hiring. “Another challenge I face as a female in this field is that I’m not going to get as many opportunities to be a director in charge of football at a lot of universities. Even though I have the knowledge, experience and passion…I won’t be looked at as closely because I’m a female.” Here at Western Oregon is the first time she has had that opportunity. “I didn’t want to be an assistant strength coach my entire career, I had bigger aspirations and I found a place that accepted me for my abilities, qualities and leadership, instead of looking away from me because I was a female.”
On paper alone she’s more than qualified to build a world class program, but in sports it’s all about results and who better to speak with than the players themselves and their head coaches.
When asked how Metzgar-Deacon has impacted the football team in the year she has been on campus, Head Coach Arne Ferguson had this to say: “Success breeds success. To be able to see your weights go up, to see yourself get stronger to be able to lift longer… the game of football has changed where rest time is limited, teams are pushing the play clock - it’s so much about recovery time and how you train for that cycle. She understands that and that’s how they are training now. The players are seeing results and that’s why they are buying in.” He can even see a difference from last year: “Through spring ball we averaged 25 to 45 more plays because the players are in shape and strong enough to do that.”
Head Volleyball Coach Brad Saindon has noticed a change in his players as well, “My players are more fit than they have ever been. They are jumping better, they are hitting harder, they look different, they recover faster.”
The praises don’t stop there. The football athletes, typically the toughest critics, were lining up to give testimonials. Linebacker Scotland Foss, has seen tremendous improvement. “Personally, my bench press went up 50 pounds and my squat went up 50 pounds. As a team, physically you can tell players are bigger, faster, stronger—and with attitude. I think Cori brings in a whole new dynamic, not just because she’s a female, but because she has extensive knowledge- she’s an expert in her field and it reflects. I think we’ve advanced to a better place mentally and physically.”
Wide receiver Michael Reeve points out that it goes beyond just the physical aspect. “I’ve gained 15 pounds of muscle," he says. “I’m a lot stronger and faster than I’ve ever been, and because of that - a lot more confident on the field. I have a lot more fun. As a team it’s bringing us closer together and we are becoming more of a family unit.”
“I have never wanted to be a good female strength coach, I have wanted to be a good strength coach, and I feel that’s what I am.” says Metzgar-Deacon. According to the staff and student-athletes at Western Oregon University, Cori Metzgar-Deacon is better than good. Volleyball Coach Brad Saindon sums it up best: “In my view...at WOU it's not that we have a strength and conditioning coach, but rather that we have Cori. She is the best.”
Adding the sports performance position to the athletic department has been one way to drastically impact each student athlete without having to hire an additional staff member for each team. It is a position that has a massive return on investment, which is important now more than ever with funding for ‘non-essential’ programs being drastically cut across the board.
“Having a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the college level is so important because we can refine and develop all the physical aspects of an athlete for their sport to help that athlete be the best they can physically & mentally be. If training is done correctly, it can be the difference between first and second place, a conference championship, a national championship, a P.R. or just even making the team. As I look back on my first year here at WOU and see all the improvements in strength & power as well as self-esteem, flexibility, mental toughness, and the sense of “team”, I know this position has made a difference at WOU and I’m very proud of that,” says Metzgar-Deacon.
Unlike big Division I schools, Division II schools don’t have the advantage of huge scholarships and state of the art facilities. In fact, the majority of Division II student-athletes only receive a partial scholarship, if any, and must pay the rest of their way on their own. In a world where money talks, having Metzgar-Deacon here gives WOU a leg up on the difficult task of recruiting. “She’s changed our recruiting. We’ll find kids that have really good speed that we need to get extra strength on or find a bigger kid that can’t move as well as we’d like that she can work with, and we know that in time they will be ready to play. We can find the kids that have the extra that we are looking for and give her the opportunity to mold them. It allows us to focus more time on development of our players academically and retention-wise because we no longer have to constantly monitor, double check, or have one of our coaches always in the weight room.” says Head Football Coach, Arne Ferguson.
Beyond the weight room, Metzgar-Deacon teaches these student athletes things that they will carry with them throughout life. “The big thing that Cori has brought to my team are things that can't really be seen. It's all the intangible things that she has instilled in them. They have a deeper capacity of work... deeper than they were aware of! They are tougher not just physically, but mentally as well. They have learned to give effort when they believed that there was no effort left to give,” says volleyball coach Brad Saindon. “I think we as Strength Coaches help teach discipline and responsibility (clean up after yourselves, be on time, etc.), respect (for coaches and for other athletes/students), hard work, dedication, team work, and to never give up, which I believe will help them succeed in life and careers long after their playing career is over,” says Metzgar-Deacon.
Having Metzgar added to the staff also meant that sport coaches now had to leave their teams strength training programs and players in her. “I think every head coach struggles with giving up control of anything regarding his or her team. Head coaches are kind of control freaks in that way... so it was hard at first just to turn my team over to Cori... but it has been a wonderful thing to watch her make my individual players into something that they were not before she started with them. Cori has my absolute trust and support,” says Coach Saindon. For the athletes there were mixed emotions.
According to linebacker Scotland Foss there was a little hesitancy at first from some of the athletes. “At first we didn’t know how it was going to be because we’re used to freelancing in the weight room, and then she comes in and everything’s organized, and we’re going by her rules. It took a while to get acclimated to that but as soon as we did we became really well integrated with her and now everyone respects her and we wouldn’t change a thing. This is how we want it.” “Cori has been very aware and proactive, there’s always going to be some growing pains. She’s been firm and fair she pushes them mentally and physically and the players have seen results. Everybody needs to be on time, and put in the hard work and to have that accountability with Cori as a coach is extremely valuable to our staff,” says Coach Ferguson.
In addition to some initial hesitancy there was also underlying excitement, as the student athletes knew that this position would benefit every single team. “I was extremely excited, because we hadn’t had a coach like that here before and it’s something that our whole athletic department really needed. It’s something that we’d asked for, so when we heard her resume we were really excited,” says defensive end Gavin Drake. Coach Metzgar, however, was prepared for those growing pains as she’s experienced them throughout her career.
“You have to not take things personal, athletes are going to get mad at you, coaches are going to yell at you, you will spend hours working on a program that sometimes isn’t appreciated, but you have to let those things roll off and move on. In the end, they see that there are reasons for my rules, policies, and discipline and it all transfers to them being more disciplined in their own training, nutrition, and recovery and when good things come from that, they are grateful, which is all I need. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, have discipline and a tough exterior but also be approachable and respectful. It’s a very fine line, but you have to find it in order to be successful and make your athletes respect you and listen to you,” says Metzgar-Deacon.
When she isn’t busy turning Western Oregon’s 400 plus student athletes into champions, Metzgar-Deacon enjoys spending time with her husband, Brady, their two chocolate labs, and three cats. She makes time for a few hobbies which include photography, travel, hiking and staying active. “Staying active” most recently meant running her first Boston Marathon and finishing in the top 14 percent for women -- with a 3:47 finish.
“The Boston Marathon was one of the toughest experiences, mentally and physically, that I’ve ever done. It was brutally hot, the second hottest in its history, with the first hottest being back in 1905. They were warning people who weren’t in peak physical shape or hadn’t trained in the heat, not to run. I was going to run because I spent the last three months dedicating every weekend to my long runs and had to at least attempt it. My family was there, I saw them at Mile 16.8 and that helped me tremendously. When I would feel like I couldn’t go on, I would think of all the times I’ve not let my athletes give up and kept going for them, as well as myself.”