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Houston's Alan Bishop: "You know the toughest part of my job is I've got to wake up early and come do a job I love."

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POSTED: May 31, 2020 -- 6:28 p.m. CT

Friday morning, I had a great conversation with Alan Bishop, the Houston Cougars' Men's Basketball Director of Sports Performance. Bishop provided me so much information, I've divided his comments into 3 articles.

The first article deals with the impact of COVID-19 on his job and the June 1 return of student-athletes to campus. The second article discusses the rehabilitation process when a player is injured.

This article discusses Coach Bishop's path from Utah State to the University of Houston.

The HRR: Background. You played football, didn't you?

Bishop: I played it all. I played baseball. I played soccer. I played basketball. I did track and field. I wrestled. I did it all.

The HRR: How did you get inspired or get the bug to go from football to strength and performance?

Bishop: When I was playing football, I remember my first day in a weight room with college strength coaches. Up and until that point, I never realized there was a separation because, in high school, your football coaches are also your strength coaches.

I get into a college weight room; and, I'm looking around. There's five guys in here; and, their job is to train people to lift weights, run, and, I'm looking around, 'Does everybody know about that this is a job? Why isn't everyone doing this?' This is awesome. It was kind of like one of those love at first sight deals.

After his first semester at Utah State, Bishop changed his major from Business Administration to Exercise Sciences. He knew this is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

"It just clicked. I know exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life," Bishop said.

"You always have to remind yourself that these are basketball players that lift weights. I was always a weight lift guy; so, for me it was almost always the opposite. I loved football. I loved playing the game; but, I was a dude that loved to lift weights that also got to play football. It's just kind of the way my brain is wired. I enjoyed the training and the preparation probably more than I enjoyed playing the game. I enjoyed the process of it almost more than I enjoyed the competition of it."

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The HRR: You've been at UH since 2017, correct?

Bishop: Yeah. I got here in May of 2017. I'm excited to start season 4. It's been a fun ride.

The HRR: What convinced you to move and come to UH?

Bishop: When you look at the journey I had, I played ball at Utah State. I graduated in December (2009); and, I immediately when down to Southern Utah University to be a graduate assistant. I was not going to get drafted. I was not going to be an NFL guy; so, I just immediately started 'Hey, how can I get into coaching now?'

I went from Southern Utah (2010-2012) out to University of Texas at Arlington (2012-2013) took a promotion to go out there; went back to my alma mater, Utah State (2013-2017). A lot of people might say, 'Utah State.' 'Houston.' That's a no-brainer. Houston is light years from Utah State in what it means to be an Athletics Department.' But, here's what I would say. When you have the ability to work at your alma mater; and, you love what you're doing, it's got to take an unbelievable opportunity to convince you to walk away from that - especially in coaching. There's so much job security that comes with doing a good job; and, it's your alma mater. And, people liking what you're doing.

When Houston and that opportunity came, I'm looking at it; and, I'm saying, 'I have an opportunity to work with Kelvin Sampson.' Now, I'm really, really intrigued. I hold him in the same esteem as getting the chance to go work with Bill Belichick or getting the chance to go work for Nick Saban.

The HRR: Did you have any connection with Coach Sampson or anybody on the UH staff before you came to UH?

Bishop: No. Not with anybody on staff directly. But, the world of Strength and Conditioning is a really, really small one. Of the 350 Division I basketball programs, maybe half of them or maybe a third of them have their own basketball strength coach. So, there's only 150 of us running around. We kind of all know each other. It's a small, small fraternity.

When the job came open, I actually knew two coaches - one who had worked for Coach Sampson at Oklahoma and another who had worked with Kellen Sampson at Appalachian State. Both of them, who I've known for a while, they said, 'You'd be a great fit for Coach. But, more importantly, you would love working for him. What he's going to demand. He's a developmental coach. He's going to want them to come in and work hard. He's going to put a lot of value in what you do. And, then, he's going to hold his players accountable.'

To me, that got me really intrigued. And, then, when I came down to campus, I'm walking around campus. Listening to Coach. Hearing him speak about what his vision is. What has been done? Where they're coming from? Where they're going?

It was no doubt in my mind that what we did in 2017 - the groundwork that was laid by Coach Sampson, the staff, the administration and everybody involved with the program - there was no doubt in my mind. It was just a matter of when, and not if; and, I knew it was going to be sooner than later. Coach Sampson is one helluva coach. I was sold immediately.

The HRR: What's the history of the strength and performance coaching position?

Bishop: In the 1980s, you had Division I football teams that didn't have a strength coach. That's forty years ago. So, it's come a long, long way. With that being said, the world of basketball strength and conditioning, coaches are really starting to understand having that value of somebody on the developmental side of performance that is going to drive the culture and drive the message of what the head coach wants and everybody is pulling their weight together.

Where in the past, you maybe had one of the assistant football strength coaches would train volleyball and basketball. And, another one would do baseball and tennis. Everybody was kind of under one umbrella. But, as departments have evolved, you, typically, have a football strength staff and an Olympics sports strength staff. Two separate staffs because football is so demanding. You have 120 players that you're going to need a staff dedicated just to them.

At the University of Houston, I am, as far as I know, the first men's basketball only Strength and Conditioning Coach. Sports Performance Coach.

It's been an evolution. I wear a number of hats around here; so, we were able to hire and bring a strength coach dedicated to women's basketball which has been unbelievable because now they're getting more attention.

I came in; and, obviously, I'm very big on nutrition. That was one of the things with me having a lot of access to our players in terms of time where now we can do some really good things in terms of the nutrition side.

When I laid out my plan to Coach Sampson on what I wanted to do from a nutrition standpoint, he loved it. He bought in immediately. 'Yep. You got it. Everything these guys eat in this building is going to start going through you.' The fact he felt that way I knew it was going to be a good fit just because it is a holistic approach.

The one hour in the weight room? That's the easy part. Anybody can lock in for an hour; but, what are you going to do from a recovery standpoint? How is that all going to tie back in from a conditioning and in practice and in games and in optimizing performance and in peaking your nervous system so you're performing at your best on game day?

So, the fact that he bought into a holistic approach, I was sold. I knew right away it was going to be something that I knew with what we're going to do in the weight room would tie in with what we're doing on the court.

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The HRR: Nutrition. Eating. Does each player have to have a calorie intake they must reach each day? Is that different?

Bishop: Here's the way I like to approach that. I want it to be as simple as possible. If I'm telling a kid that they've got to buy a scale; and, they've got to start weighing out their food. And, they've got to hit 3200 calories; and, another kid has to hit 4700. We're going to start having compliance issues. Because the reality of it is that's not the best way to approach it in my mind.

I like giving nutritional guidelines. Letting progress happen and then individually tweaking from there. For example, any player we have we have training table. The training table is set up to have animal source healthy proteins; healthy fats; starchy carbohydrates whether that be potato, sweet potato something like that. Complex carbohydrates. Leafy greens. And if there's one thing I know, nobody ever got too fat eating too much broccoli.

You've got to teach these guys. This is what you can consume as much as you want; so, for all of us, we're going to have protein intake goals that we're trying to teach them on how to build a plate. You should always have a minimum of 40 grams of protein per meal. There should be a vegetable at every meal. There should be healthy complex carbohydrates at every meal. We're trying to gain weight or we're trying to maintain weight or XYZ. But, I want them to see what healthy plates look like; and, I want them to get after that.

I'm not sitting here trying to confuse them with the macro-ingredients; calorie intake and things like that. But, if we have a guy that's going the wrong way, 'Hey, you've put on a little bit too much. Let's make an adjustment.' If we have a guy that goes the wrong way, 'Hey, you're dropping. Here's how we're making an adjustment.'

We want to develop good, nutritional habits by giving them actionable solutions based off what we do from the training table; the fueling station; supplementation; nutritional support in all facets.

But, the other thing that's really good about here is the kind of players we bring in. I mean the reality of it is we're going to be tall lean athletes that can run the floor. That's the kind of game we play. That's the kind of kid we're recruiting; so, if you're tall, if you're long. Your athletic body type is going to reflect that for the most part. We're getting guys identified: this kid is going to need to get stronger; put on a little bit of muscle mass and that's really fun to do as a strength coach. But, we're still working on other attributes. There's still other really, really important things that you got to do; but, for the most part, you really got to get guys strong and packing on muscle mass. Good, good thing to do in basketball.

The HRR: Who designs the menu? Is that you? Every day?

Bishop: What I do with that we have, for example, we work with an on-campus catering group. And, I sit down with that chef. I sit down with that caterer. The coordinator. I want them to take ownership. I take ownership of what I do in the weight room. I don't want a coach coming down and saying, 'Hey, today they've got to do three sets of 5 on squats.' I don't need somebody to write down my weight room desire.

With them, I like to sit them down. I'd like to talk with them and say, 'Here's the philosophy. Here's the culture of what we do as a team.'

Because now, two heads are better than one. And, if there's one thing I know I don't know is how to season chicken. I'll be honest with you; and, I've been trying that for over 30 years. I'm just not very good at seasoning chicken. I don't know how much paprika to put in there. I don't know how much oregano to put in there. But, I know that chicken is healthy; and, I know when it tastes good, guys eat more of it.

I'm going to sit and talk with the chef; and, say 'Look, here's my nutritional philosophy. Here's our team culture. And, everything we do needs to fit within the culture. We need to drive Coach Sampson's development culture.'

Then, what we'll do, is we'll plan things out together from a standpoint of 'You're the expert. You have things you're great at preparing.' For example, we've had a chef here the last few years who was an unbelievable Cajun-inspired chef from Louisiana. 'Why would I tell you how to make shrimp gumbo?' No. No. Do your thing. Be the best in the world at what you do. Let's just all be on the same page with the developmental philosophy.

I think that we've had a lot of success. I think that people really appreciate when you give them the autonomy to do a great job. What we do is we'll design the menus from the standpoint of here's the guidelines; here's the philosophy; here's what we do. They kind of put some things together. I'll give them some ideas and every week or every two weeks or every month however far out that we're prepared, we communicate on those menus: what are the recipes?; what are the ingredients? And, we go back and forth on that so that everything fits into that developmental culture because what I don't want to do is, I don't just want to have pizza upstairs. Yeah. I mean the guys might like it; but, it's not doing anything to help us out.

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The HRR: Do you have to be certified? Renew certifications to continue education for your job?

Bishop: I do. The NCAA requires that Division I strength coaches are certified by an accredited body. So, there's two main bodies that do the certification process completely. You only need to be certified by one. I'm certified by both. Not that these other credentials matter; but, I've done a number of courses continuing education certifications or everything from soft tissue work to nutrition. I've done courses on psychology. By no stretch does that qualify me to be a physical therapist or to be a registered dietician or to be a psychiatrist. But, when you're dealing with a person, the more information and the more you trained across different spectrums the better you can speak the language of all involved. If we're speaking the same language on a medical standpoint; if we're speak the same language on the personal standpoint; if we're speaking the same language on the coaching; tactical; leadership, etc. standpoint, we're going to be able to deliver a better message.

I take the tremendous amount of pride in the continued education. I think it's something that investing in yourself is going to pay dividends.

The HRR: What's the biggest challenge in your job?

Bishop: You know, that's interesting because in the world of strength and conditioning, there's a couple of things that will drive a coach insane. If you've got a head coach that doesn't have your back, you don't want to work there. There are coaches like that. They're not winning. Say there's an injury or something. They just want to point the finger all over the place. If you have a coach that doesn't have your back, that's one of the worst possible environments to be working.

If you do not have the resources to meet the expectations. Meaning, you're being evaluated in your job on winning conference championships. But, you don't have your own weight room. You don't have a nutrition table. You don't have a travel budget. You don't have any of those things; but, everybody else does. You haven't been provided resources to meet the expectation for what you're being evaluated.

If you bring in players that are just not being held accountable; and, you bring in players that are just not about hard work and getting after it and developing and having that mindset of they want to be great. If you don't bring in those players, it's tough.

The great thing about here at UH, we have EVERYTHING within our basketball program. We have a staff and a head coach that we all have each other's backs.

We have high, high expectations; and, I love that. I want to be having these high expectations on ourselves. And, I love the fact that my boss holds me to a super high standard. But, it's almost like Coach Sampson is my support staff. He's asking me, 'Bishop, what do you need? What can I help you do? Tell me what you need me to give you so you can do your job better.'

I've got a head coach that's got my back. He's given me the resources to meet the expectations; and, I'll go up and down and side to side on our roster and every player we have is just an unbelievable player. I love these guys. These are the kind of guys that you want your daughter to marry.

You know the toughest part of my job is I've got to wake up early and come do a job I love.

I love being around these guys. I love being around this program. Like I'm not going to sit here and tell you XYZ this is a tough part of my job. And like I told you from day one. I'm looking around the room saying, 'Wait. This is a job? People get paid to do this?'

I'm loving it. We're in a really good spot. I'm just excited to be a part of the team.

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