John Sisk did not arrive at Georgia Tech with bravado. The walls of the Yellow Jackets' weight room underneath the Bobby Dodd Stadium stands do not bear signs repeating his mantras. Tech players aren't walking around with slogans on T-shirts.
"Not right now," said Sisk, Tech's new strength and conditioning coach. "Just work. That's the big thing, just work."
Sisk is about a month into his new job, having started in late May as a replacement for Neal Peduzzi, who left Tech to train special forces in the U.S. Army. Hired from Furman after a nine-year run heading Vanderbilt's strength program, Sisk has joined the preparations for the coming season in full gallop while also attempting to implement his philosophy.
"I'm trying not to revamp the whole deal right now, [just] adding things in and learning the kids, learning where we're going," Sisk said.
Nose tackle T.J. Barnes has given his approval. Barnes began to come in two afternoons each week to lift with Sisk on top of the five weekly morning team sessions.
"I've taken a whole new approach to it than I have in the past couple of years, especially talking to coach Sisk," Barnes said. "He has me believing I can do amazing things."
Sisk, 42, takes an approach that adjusts training by position, individual and class. A quarterback should have a different workout than a linebacker. A fifth-year senior should train differently than a freshman. A veteran team may need different challenges than a young one. Further, Sisk said he's not one to "chase numbers," having players achieve measurable strength gains for their own sake.
He has a backer in former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, who hired Sisk away from Clemson after they had worked together at Furman. Johnson gave a strong endorsement to Tech coach Paul Johnson, a good friend.
"He doesn't make weight lifters," Bobby Johnson said. "He makes better football players."
To that end, Sisk places an emphasis on developing attributes such as grip strength, flexibility and explosion off one and two feet. Conditioning is paramount. In July, as the start of preseason practice nears, he will shift the focus to conditioning and intends to move workouts to the afternoon and evening to train in the summer heat. To Sisk, a better conditioned player will practice better and, as a result, play better.
Sisk said he has been impressed with the work Tech players have put in thus far, but believes they can do better. The Jackets lost five of their last seven games of the 2011 season and were outscored 48-14 in the fourth quarter of those seven games. Paul Johnson has mentioned the need to finish better.
Conditioning "is huge," Sisk said. "I think we're amping that up a little bit, ramping that up from where they've been in the past."
One of the best things Sisk did at Vanderbilt, Bobby Johnson said, was organize players into about eight teams and have them compete throughout winter workouts. It spurred players' competitive drives and made teammates beholden to each other.
"When you have them competing every day, it's a whole lot harder to goof off," Johnson said.
Sisk developed camaraderie to the point that the Vanderbilt weight room became the de facto players lounge. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler used to return to Vanderbilt to hang out with Sisk and, in fact, shelled out for professional-wrestling belts that adorn plaques that list the winners of the weight-room competitions. (Sisk is a professional-wrestling junkie, favoring Ric Flair.)
Tech players already have warmed up to their new coach. Quarterback Synjyn Days likes how Sisk gets players amped up with loud music and motivational pep talks.
"I love his enthusiasm," said Days, who noted that he appreciates that Sisk doesn't use profanity.
Two of Sisk's star pupils at Vanderbilt are now Chicago Bears, Cutler and offensive lineman Chris Williams, Vanderbilt's only first-round NFL draft picks since 1986. Cutler added about 40 pounds over his college career and increased his bench press to 400 pounds. Williams arrived at Vanderbilt weighing 245 pounds and left as the No. 14 overall pick of the 2008 draft, having developed to a lean 320 pounds.
"It was his job, but you felt like everything was so personal," Williams said. "We were his kids. Everything was just about developing each guy to be the best player they could be and getting him to the next level."
It's probably a little long for a T-shirt, but it's a good place to start.