Texans new S&C coach changed Lin’s career

Texans new S&C coach changed Lin’s career
February 3, 2014, 8:00 am
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(USA Today Images)

Lamar Reddicks wasn’t still coaching at Harvard when Jeremy Lin was a senior but Reddicks kept his tradition alive anyway.

And he still remembers the first thing Lin said to him that morning, when he took Lin and his senior teammates to breakfast.

“Coach, I’m the strongest guy on the team,” Lin said smiling.

But it wasn’t always that way. Not even close.

Lin arrived at Harvard University in the fall of 2006 as a skinny freshman who didn’t receive a single Division I scholarship offer and weighed a measly 170 pounds.

But by the time he left Cambridge, Lin wasn’t that same skinny kid anymore. Four years later, he weighed 200 pounds and had a legitimate shot of making it in the NBA.

He can thank the Texans’ new strength and conditioning coach, Craig Fitzgerald, for that. And he does.

“He’s a great, great, great guy,” Lin said after a Rockets practice last week. “I can’t say more about him. He changed my career definitely. When I showed up, I was 170 and I was the weakest player to ever show up in the Harvard basketball program, just weight-wise. And when I left, I was one of the stronger guys there. He just taught me how to be more mentally tough. He pushed me. Man, he’s awesome.”

See, Fitzgerald, whom Bill O’Brien is bringing with him to the Houston Texans from Penn State, was the director of strength and conditioning at Harvard while Lin was in college and had a huge impact on the point guard’s career.  

Fitzgerald first worked with Texans new head coach O’Brien at Maryland. Fitzgerald was the assistant director of strength and conditioning for the Terrapins from 2000-05 but from there, he went to Harvard and was put in charge of strength and conditioning for all 41 varsity sports.

Lin said Fitzgerald’s being responsible for all the varsity sports was never an issue. He said their workout times were staggered to accommodate everyone.

After Harvard, Fitzgerald went to South Carolina to oversee strength and conditioning for the football team for three seasons. Then, O’Brien hired him to join him in Penn State, where Fitzgerald was credited for modernizing the school’s strength training program.

Fitzgerald earned the nickname “Iron Lion” while working at Penn State and his motivational tactics gained some notoriety as he has gotten some credit for helping O’Brien keep recruits amid the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

“He just pushes you in ways you don’t think you can be pushed,” said former Penn State defensive lineman Daquan Jones, who is projected to be a high-round draft pick, at the Senior Bowl. “It’s a different type of workout. You test your body in every type of way, in every weather condition. It’s just something that gets you in shape and gets you ready for the football game.”

But Fitzgerald’s motivational tactics weren’t new at Penn State. Lin remembers them well from his time at Harvard.

“Very intense,” Lin said. “You can’t step into the weight room without knowing you’re about to really get after it.”

“He had a good vibe with the guys,” said Reddicks, who was an assistant coach under Frank Sullivan at Harvard during Lin’s freshman season. “He was entertaining. You wanted to listen because he’s someone scary. He was really into it. He was still fairly young himself. He would jump in and do the lifts with him.”

Reddicks still chuckles at the thought of Lin as a skinny freshman and is amazed when he watches him play for the Rockets. He joked that he used to be able to curl more weight than Lin could bench press.  

Back then, the basketball coaches would work with Fitzgerald to formulate a plan for their players. But it was really up to the players to make it work.

“(Fitzgerald) was so into what he was into,” Reddicks said. “It was a passion of his. If you wanted to put the work in, he had all the tools to get you to that next level.”

Fitzgerald was at Harvard as recently as 2009 and now he’s heading to the NFL to oversee one of the 32 NFL franchises. It’s a quick rise to the top of the strength and conditioning world but Reddicks said he’s not surprised by it. He’s not shocked by Fitzgerald’s success because of the strength coach’s personality. Reddicks called it “dynamic.”

Lin hasn’t worked with Fitzgerald since his senior year of college but still follows Fitzgerald’s teachings. And since they’re both in Houston now, the Rockets’ point guard is looking forward to catching up with one of the guys who helped make him the player he is today.

“I just say he helped me the most with my mindset, just being able to attack the weights and be aggressive and be fearless,” Lin said. “That’s what I’ll remember the most.”