Close your eyes and imagine a football strength and conditioning coach.
Imagine the backward hat and the whistle around a thick neck, nose centimeters away from the player’s nose, obscenities flying.
That is not Kentucky’s Corey Edmond.
That is the opposite of Kentucky’s Corey Edmond.
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“Everybody’s trying to make YouTube videos, trying to pump up what they do,” he said of the strength coach archetype. “I’d rather be here doing what I do.”
And what he does is quietly make a difference.
In Edmond’s sparse, shoebox of an office that he shares with assistant strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill, he has lots of books open on his desk. A Bible or two with important passages marked, biographies of corporate heads and international leaders.
He quotes Napoleon — “define reality, but give hope” — in just the third interview he’s agreed to sit down for in more than two decades.
When head coach Mark Stoops learned that someone wanted to write a story on Edmond, he laughed out loud.
“Don’t stories need words?” Stoops joked, sort of. “He doesn’t talk to anybody.”
Stoops and Edmond go back a long way to when the strength coach worked with him on the staff at Arizona more than a decade ago. And yet, Stoops can count on both hands the number of times that Edmond has come up to his office at Kentucky to visit and chat.
“He says very little as far as the small talk, but he’s all business in the weight room,” Stoops said.
During an early morning weight lifting session at the training facility, it’s nearly impossible to hear Edmond as he works with groups of players, instructing them, moving them through their regular routines.
The music selection, Watch Out by 2 Chainz, drowns out his voice.
When you yell all the time, yell 24-7 the guys never know what’s important. When you talk quietly, guys listen intensely.
It’s loud. The players are loud. Edmond is purposefully not loud.
“He’s not a rah-rah guy, so he commands the room with this voice,” tight end C.J. Conrad said of UK’s head strength and conditioning coach. “A lot of people respect that. When he talks, he doesn’t really yell, and for some reason, it locks us all in.”
Courtney Love is a weight room junkie because he wasn’t always a 245-pound linebacker and doesn’t want to go back to being a “small guy.” In all of that time in UK’s weight room, the junior transfer has only heard Edmond yell once and that was when another guy “really got on his nerves.”
Other than that, players are forced to lean in to listen, which makes what Edmond is about to say seem important.
“Whatever he says is going to get done,” Love said. “He says it in a soft manner. It’s soft voice, but a loud meaning.”
That’s something Edmond said he learned from his wife, an elementary school teacher.
“When you yell all the time, yell 24-7 the guys never know what’s important,” he said. “When you talk quietly, guys listen intensely. You have to really lock in to hear what I’m saying.”
Sometimes the words aren’t loud, but they have a bit of a bite to them.
“You ain’t running over nobody doing it like that,” Edmond critiqued running back Jojo Kemp during the workout.
Of all of Kentucky’s coaches, Edmond spends the most time with the players, often coming into the office before 5 a.m. to get ready for the day.
“We’re with him more than anyone here,” Conrad said. “He’s not going out recruiting; he’s not gone. He’s here 365 days a year. He’s always here, always asking if we want to do extra work.”
Edmond doesn’t go out to recruit, but he’s a strong force in the Cats’ recruiting efforts, regularly meeting with prospects and their parents when they’re visiting campus. He helps UK’s coaching staff make decisions on who gets an offer and who doesn’t.
“We incorporate Coach Edmond into the recruiting process a lot,” said Dan Berezowitz, UK’s director of recruiting. “He looks at kids and says, ‘This kid can weigh this; I think he can do this; he can be this big; I like his grip.’ Feedback from him is pivotal.”
Edmond likely is going to be the guiding force for the Cats’ strength and conditioning program for the foreseeable future, too.
After the departure of High Performance Coach Erik Korem for the NFL, there will be a reshuffling of that part of the program and Edmond will be the “main voice” guiding that, Stoops said last month.
Naturally, it will be a quiet voice.
‘He pushes us in every way’
It’s late at night and Kentucky’s assistant strength and conditioning coach can’t help but get the giggles.
Inevitably his wife will ask, “What’s wrong with you?” and Hill will explain that something funny happened at work. But he wasn’t allowed to laugh about it at the time.
That’s a no-no in a weight room that has its share of clowns.
“We have seen some stuff that when you think back on it, it would just make you die laughing,” Hill said.
Holding back and trying to refocus the group is something he learned from Edmond, who was his first strength and conditioning coach when he played at UT-Chattanooga.
“One of the hardest things in my life is seeing so much funny stuff and keeping a straight face,” said Edmond, who cracks a smile about as often as he yells.
“Some funny stuff happens in here, but when you’re a strength coach, you can’t laugh because then they’ll know they can make you laugh.”
When he arrived on campus, Love wasn’t sure what to make of his new coach with the demeanor normally reserved for guys atop Mount Rushmore.
“He’s definitely a scary guy at first,” the junior linebacker said. “He doesn’t come off right away as trying to be friends.”
Players also learn quickly that even though he’s “pushing 50” as Edmond describes his age, he still owns the weight room.
“I had 285 or something on the bar and he was asking if it was too heavy or whatever,” Love recalled from winter conditioning. “He gets the weights, throws them off and puts 315 on there and does it like it’s nothing.”
It was a trick that the 47-year-old coach used back at Chattanooga so many years ago, too.
“He did that with us and it made me work that much harder to challenge him more,” recalled Hill, who now does the same things at age 38. “He whooped me every time, but I still wanted to see if I could beat him.”
Sometimes you’ve got to send a message, Edmond said.
“When they get a little frisky and they want to bump into you and those type of things, you’ve gotta let them know,” he said. “I’ll bump you back. That’s part of the deal.”
It’s also part of the deal that he rarely ends up chatting with the players about training and lifting. Edmond spends far more time discussing life, family, girlfriends, classes and church.
Turns out the guy who doesn’t say much, listens better than most, too.
“We all love him,” Love said. “He’s a father figure. We spend a majority of our time in the offseason with him training, really one on one with him” and the other trainers.
“He just pushes us in every way. Off the field, school, our faith. He pushes us day in and day out.”
Any lunkhead can yell and train a room full of college athletes to pick up weights properly. But Stoops has seen Edmond as so much more than a strength and conditioning coach in the years they’ve worked together.
“Corey’s life — and he won’t tell you this — his life is fulfilled by helping other kids, and that’s train and help them develop as young men,” Stoops said. “He’s incredible because he’s such a strong, Christian man. He has such a strong family. He’s such a positive influence on these guys.”