Ray "Rock" Oliver, a former strength coach with the University of Kentucky and Cincinnati Bengals, has returned to Lexington as the director of strength and conditioning for the UK football team.
Oliver became a household name with UK fans during his tenure as the strength and conditioning coach for Rick Pitino and the Kentucky basketball team from 1989-92. The Wildcats were recognized as one of the country's top-conditioned teams during that period.
Oliver spent the last six seasons as the associate strength and conditioning coach with the Bengals and had been head of that department with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has additional pro experience with the NBA's New Jersey Nets and has been the strength and conditioning coach with football and/or basketball teams at Kansas, Pittsburgh, UK, South Carolina and Memphis.
Now Oliver's primary task will be whipping the Wildcats' football squad into tip-top shape for first-year coach Joker Phillips.
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"To leave the NFL would have to be for a place that is special in my heart," Oliver said. "That's what this place is to me and my family, and it's special because of the people. (Joker and I) kept in touch, and we've always talked about the possibility, when he became a head coach, of us working together. When Joker called about me coming here, I knew the call was coming and had already thought about it. You want to be at a place where you have people you believe in. I believe in what he's doing. We're going to do it, and we're going to do it the right way. We're going to build an army, but this army isn't going to wear the traditional green fatigues. It will be wearing blue and white."
Phillips also announced the appointment of Ted Lambrinides as assistant strength and conditioning coach. Lambrinides and Oliver first met as students at Ohio State and have been associates for three decades. In 2001, Lambrinides began his own enterprise as owner and president of High Performance Training, Inc., and has been involved extensively in helping potential NFL players train for the league combine and other evaluation events. He also has been a lecturer and coordinator of the exercise-science program at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills since 1991.
"I'm excited about having great teachers who have a wealth of experience and knowledge of the business as our strength coaches," Phillips said. "I've stayed in touch with Rock since he was here at UK. He's a great motivator, with the ability to get the best out of the kids and has the toughness we're continuing to develop on our team.
Oliver also has a long history with UK men's basketball coach John Calipari. They first met at Kansas when Calipari was an assistant coach and continued at Pittsburgh, the New Jersey Nets and Memphis. Oliver was the head strength coach for Calipari and the Nets in 1996-97 and at Memphis from 2001-03 before going home to the Bengals.
"What a great hire," Calipari said. "Obviously, he's like a brother to me. He and his wife are like brother and sister to my wife and I. We're happy, selfishly, he's here. ... He'll bring a whole culture, a defining culture, which is what he did the last time working basketball. He will give his heart and soul to this university, the football program and the basketball program. He is my brother is basically what I'll tell you."
Oliver is expected to focus on football during his latest stop at UK, but Calipari said he'll stay in regular contact.
"I bet he'll be at my office a couple times a week," he said. "And we'll be having some dinner together. ... Why not have another pair of eyes, especially a guy I know cares about me. He's going to give me an honest appraisal. I love that. I have no problem with that."