A Conversation With Coach Charlie Melton

While brainstorming ways to incorporate sports posts in This Is Noelle during the football offseason, I had the idea to start a series of interviews with athletes and coaches in all sports. Although I mainly focus on football, I believe that those who coach and play have similar experiences and emotions while focusing on their sport of choice. For the first installment in what I’ve lovingly called “A Conversation With…”, I interviewed Coach Charlie Melton- Baylor men’s basketball director of athletic performance. 

Can you tell me about how you started working in strength and conditioning?

I fell in love with working out in high school because I wasn’t very athletic and I wasn’t good at sports. I just really fell in love with writing down the food that I ate and the workouts that I did so I started to gain weight and I got stronger during my senior year of high school. When I got to the University of Memphis, I was unsure about what I was going to major in so I kind of bounced around from a couple different majors. I initially thought I would do physical therapy but pre-med chemistry was just brutal and in 1995, I took a semester off in the spring and worked two jobs to try and figure out what I wanted to do. My girlfriend’s mom at the time asked if I had ever heard of work hardening, which is a specialist in between physical therapy and occupational therapy. It wasn’t a licensed practitioner for one of those bigger disciplines but it helped working class people transition from surgery back to blue collar labor jobs. I met with a guy who worked in the field and his job looked fun. He said that he got an exercise science degree from the University of Memphis,  and at the time, I didn’t even know there was such a degree. I went over to the department, looked into it, started majoring in exercise science and health promotion in the fall of 1995 and found what I was really meant to do. At that point I had a 2.5 GPA and then through my core classes from my major I had a 3.9 and science, which I was previously pretty bad at, just came really easy when it was science of the body. Everything clicked and we had a weight lifting club and a student chapter of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and I got involved with research, so I really branched out and started doing a lot. I did my internship in the spring of 1998 with the Memphis football team, I worked in the weight room, and also qualified for collegiate nationals in weight lifting. At that point I was living my dream of lifting and being part of athletics in the weight room and then my exercise physiology professor approached me during that semester and asked if I had plans for graduate school. I was a super underachiever at the time so I had no idea. I was just lifting weights, you know? He told me that he needed a graduate research assistant and he asked me to work in the weight room as a strength coach and at the end of the workouts, pass out the supplements for his research study. I was interested because it was a graduate assistantship so they were going to pay for my Master’s degree. I worked for two years as a research assistant/strength coach assistant, and I just loved it. 

At the end I found out I didn’t want to do research because I was tired of doing blood samples and collecting urine jugs, I really just enjoyed the weight room part and the practice of it. So I got my Master’s degree completed in 2000. My head strength coach at Memphis was a former Florida State football player and was still involved with that program and his old coach was still the coach at FSU. He told me that they were looking for a graduate assistant and so he set me up with him and I ended up going to FSU and took another grad assistantship position in the summer of 2000. Our strength coach and assistant head coach went to the University of Georgia in 2001 in the spring and so I had to step into more of a role as an assistant strength coach because we had lost our head strength coach and his assistant was now the interim head strength coach. The new guy came in and hired me in the spring in 2001 so that’s when I actually started working as a full time strength coach. I started with soccer, track and field and football. It was a huge learning curve to write programs for track and field and soccer, I mean just completely different from football. So I started incorporating a lot of the science I had learned and you know, the education started to pay off. Somewhere in strength and conditioning there’s a crossover between the practice of it and the science of it. You have to be a practitioner and you also have to have the science to guide you. There’s some really brilliant guys that I was in grad school with that are not cut out to be coaches and some great coaches who don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just doing what they learned. And so I thought I knew it all back then. 

Our head strength coach at the time took over and told me that he wanted me to run the internship program. In 2004 I took on a class at FSU: an undergraduate techniques in strength and conditioning course and I started teaching that fall which was really cool, I really enjoyed it. In 2004 was also when Coach Drew contacted me and said, “Hey, your graduate professor from Memphis is now the chair of the Baylor exercise department. He’s been helping with nutrition and we’re going to hire our own men’s basketball strength coach and your name came up. Would you be interested?” I initially thought there’s no way in the world I have a shot at a job like this, and then on top of that, why would you ever want to move to Waco? There’s David Karesh and then there was the whole Dennehy scandal so he ended up coming to visit me at FSU and then they offered me to come and visit here at campus and it was awesome, they just did a really good job at recruiting everybody. They were sending me letters in the mail and just treating me really well and finally offered the job. I ended up coming here in the summer of 2005, left FSU right at 5 years (July 1) and came here and started working again with my graduate professor. He put me in charge of their research lab here as far as internships and in 2007 I had a chance to pick up an undergrad class (Techniques of Strength and Conditioning), so I’ve been teaching that class for 8 years now here at Baylor. It’s really fun it’s every fall and it’s a blast because I get to be around undergrads and get out of the gym and that’s kind of my coaching timeline or story.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love my relationships with the players and the experience of seeing a guy come in immature with a head full of some crazy dreams and watching him mature and take on some more realistic dreams. You see these guys like Cory Jefferson, who went from 175 pounds to 220 pounds and he ends up huge but the way that the guys develop mentally and spiritually here is just as important as 50 pounds of muscle. That part is my favorite part. Because even when we lose games or it’s a hard practice or things don’t go our way, we still have that group of guys to keep us up. When I went through a divorce in 2010, this was the only thing that kept me going because I couldn’t see my kids like I used to be able to, I had to move into an apartment near campus, and I blew my knee out on top of that, so coming to work was the thing that kept me up in the morning. I told myself that I have to get up because the guys are waiting for me and that hands down is my favorite part. 

When you have a bad game or a bad practice, how do you motivate the guys to push through?

We remind them about what’s important and we focus on the process and the overall goal. What’s really important is staying together as a team, standing up, being men of God no matter what life throws at us. That’s one of our foundations. In terms of the process, well we lost but we still have to show up tomorrow, we still have to get dressed, we still have to lift because we have to focus on our big goal. We have a Big 12 tournament coming up and we’re trying to make the NCAA tournament. If we get selected on Sunday, that will be the third time we’ve been selected, which will be a record for us. You know, it’s not what we wanted-we wanted the Big 12 championship, and we saw it start to slip away last week when Kansas got too far ahead but that’s okay because we can still go to the Big 12 tournament and show people who we really are. I think those things keep driving us. I also like to play with the guys so we’ve got lacrosse sticks, pogo sticks, hockey sticks, we’ve got about 30 nerf guns. So we play and wrestle and it’s like being with my brothers. I’m the oldest of four boys and the guys are all like my little brothers so I can kind of horse around with them. We’ve got a warm up where we play tag and crack jokes so we’re blessed with some guys who know this is our life so it’s really hard to lose, but it’s still college basketball. It’s supposed to be fun. 

Is it in your coaching philosophy to instill the concept of having fun and enjoying the game?

It definitely is in my philosophy. If I’m laughing and whistling and joking while I’m working hard, I’m actually working harder than I would be if I were in a bad mood. You don’t want to have an intrinsic focus, you want to have this extrinsic focus where yeah this hurts, this is painful, but it’s fun because it’s in this beautiful weight room and I’m with my brothers. Life is meant to be enjoyed. There are trials, but even in James it tells us that if it’s a trial, we’re still supposed to count it as joy. And this is something that not everyone’s doing. There’s a saying that says if it’s easy, everybody would be doing it. We remind these guys that out of all the high school basketball players in the country, they’re selected to be here doing this. 

What is your definition of a successful coach?

My definition of success is different from a basketball coach’s definition. To me, a successful career in coaching is that when my guys come back in 10 years, they hug me and tell me how their kids are doing; that if I come to the team with a concern, they respect me enough to look me in the eye and listen and do what I ask out of love, not out of obligation. I think the biggest satisfaction is at the end of a long practice or a long workout, everybody’s still being brothers and being friends. I think it’s successful when you can handle serious conflict with a guy. For example, Rico got busted for shoplifting this summer but as bad as that is, he’s still part of our family. You wouldn’t kick your sister out of the house for shoplifting. You know, my mom’s not gonna kick me out of the house for shoplifting. So we were able to rally around him and love him up and help put him back on course. Sometimes being friends and brother’s isn’t always fun and easy, sometimes it’s really really hard. Being able to fight through whatever’s going on-good, bad or ugly, and maintain that relationship, that is success to me. 

What is an average practice like for the team?

It depends on the time of the year. Our hardest and longest practices are in the preseason when we are in September or October, and we are allowed to practice 20 hours a week and we don’t have games. That turns into team warm ups for 10 to 15 minutes and practice for two to three hours, and then we lift at the end of that. We’re limited to four hours per day max. In the offseason before we’re in the competitive period, we have to have two days off a week. And so those turn into four hour days. On those days, there’s an hour and a half leading up to it where we’re getting everything set up, everybody’s showing up, getting dressed, and then there’s the hour afterwards where we’re cleaning up, so it turns into long days. During that time, there’s no gratification, the guys are practicing against each other and beating up on each other. That’s a typical preseason, which is super long. Right now we are in a period where we’ll do an hour of film, watch the game we just played, watch scout on the upcoming team we’re going to play, we’ll lift for 30-45 minutes depending on what day of the week it is and we’ll practice for an hour to an hour and a half. It’s shorter when we’re at home, but what gets long is game days and being on the road. The summer time is a different period. The way basketball is defined is in-season usually is 20 hours a week and anything that’s pre, post, or offseason is eight hours a week. In the eight hour period, we get two hours to do basketball skill work and six hours a week to do strength and conditioning. The year kind of looks like April through September, and September through April.

But you’re able to have fun in between, right?

Yeah, so we get the month of May off. We might get a couple guys in town but generally, they have finals and voluntary workouts and then the guys go home, so the month of May is our down month. But 11 months out of the year we’re going strong. 

Is that draining on you and the team?

Yeah the first few years especially were draining, just getting used to what the requirements were. Now it’s draining but my family knows what to anticipate, I know what to anticipate, so we’re able to make the most out of my off days. We let off a lot of steam last spring, we’re hoping to do it this year, where we did the multiple sports kind of thing. So we’re planning on doing that. The month of April can be fun. If we can get baseball and tennis and lacrosse on board with it with us, and softball and rowing and all that, we can go out and play and have a good time.

What’s your favorite memory from your coaching career?

The first time we made the NCAA tournament was pretty cool. It was after the end of several years of really playing hard and trying to get these lower ranked, lower tiered players and bumping them up to a level where we were competitive. The first time going to the tournament and seeing what a spectacle it is and how much history and heritage and tradition involved with it, that was one of the biggest moments. If I had to rank them, that’s the best.

And that’s helped you guys to gain attraction from bigger recruits, right?

It’s led to everything just growing from there. So we’re able to get some guys in the top 50 that we shouldn’t have gotten before and we wouldn’t have gotten in the past. The women winning the national championship in 2005 helped us build this weight room and this practice facility, so all that has enabled us to bring kids in and say we’ve got this weight room, we’ve got these great numbers in the post season. For a while I think we had the best post season numbers in the country, which you don’t really think about, but we’ve done extremely well in the post season. It’s all been really cool because it was this concept of leaving FSU which is a really big school, it’s an entry level job but it’s a secure job, to come to this Baylor University rebuild project and it was kind of like this buy low, sell high opportunity and we were buying stock really low. Not a lot of people wanted to touch this job, but I thought man, if those coaches that are that positive and that strong are brave enough to take on that situation, I could work with guys like that. That charged me up and then imagine if we started to do well, imagine if we got better, that would show that we have the ability to coach and develop people. That’s what you want to be able to show the world is hey, we can coach, we can develop, we can compete. And it’s kind of easy to do it when you go to a school that’s already competitive that’s a big school, you know you go to FSU and you expect them to win because it’s FSU, so that whole process has been really cool. That kind of helps me feel more successful even though we’re not Duke or Kentucky or Kansas, but everybody knows who Baylor is now, which is cool.

Do you have any other favorite parts of your job that you’d like to add?

The idea of faith here at Baylor and being able to speak the name of Jesus, being able to pray is pretty awesome because there are some places where they’re discouraged from speaking the name of Jesus, they’re discouraged from praying. We’re able here to live it with these players. And you know, Christianity doesn’t mean perfection, it means failure. If you look, the Bible is a story of failure on man’s part and God getting the glory for making things happen. And we get the chance to teach guys here how to be strong Christians, like real Christians, not somebody that says the right things or prays the right prayers, but somebody who walks through life with people who aren’t Christians and witnesses and lives in the world but they’re not of the world. I think that’s really cool here. We’ve had five or six guys get baptized a couple years ago, it’s just awesome. So that’s been one of the biggest things for me personally because there’s guys who have stuck by me, there’s always godly council, and I don’t want to work anywhere else. This is my dream job.