EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Falcons strength coach speaks against low NFLPA report grade

The Falcons refurbished weight room.

The Falcons refurbished weight room.

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Falcons strength-and-conditioning coach Thomas Stallworth took umbrage with the NFLPA report card that was released before the NFL Scouting Combine workouts started Wednesday.

“I’m going to be the first coach that stands up for myself,” Stallworth said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Stallworth was named the Falcons’ strength-and-conditioning coach in February 2021. He previously worked with the New York Giants. He noted that the Falcons were in the top 10 in the fewest games missed by players in each of his three seasons – second in 2021, fourth in 2022 and eighth in 2023.

“The No. 1 issue that the players felt needed improvement at the time of the survey was the head strength coach, who is no longer with the club,” according to the NFLPA report card. “He received the lowest grade of any strength coach. The players described a negative culture in the weight room.”

Stallworth, who has as doctorate degree, noted that the nature of strength and conditioning to push the players to their physical limits.

“This is an unfortunate situation because when something like this happens … there are so many layers to this,” Stallworth said. “Like last year, when they first put it out, and I had chance to try to reach out to (Falcons NFLPA representative) Chris Lindstrom, he said that some of the team reps … talking to other strength coaches at the time … everybody was caught off-guard, including the players.”

Stallworth believes the report cards make already difficult working relationships more contentious.

“Then when these results come out, it’s alarming and then it’s also goes to … the landscape of where sports is right now,” said Stallworth, who played at Lithonia High school and Tennessee. “People always talk about that sports is a microcosm of society. So, when I say that, when you have social media and people can say any and everything anonymously, well … the value of written communication and overall objectivity is lost.”

Stallworth and former coach Arthur Smith worked closely together.

“Even last year, when I sat down with coach Smith about the situation, I explained to him some of the feedback,” Stallworth said. “I was like, Coach, this is what they are saying, but here are the facts.”

After his playing career, Stallworth wanted to be a strength coach.

He was with the Giants as their assistant strength-and-conditioning coach (2018-20). Before New York, he was Western Kentucky’s head strength-and-conditioning coach in 2017.

Stallworth also has worked at Fresno State, Texas Tech and North Carolina State. He also spent three seasons as associate strength-and-conditioning coach at Mississippi State.

Stallworth earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management from Tennessee in 2001 before earning his master’s from the school in sports administration in 2004. He went on to earn his doctorate degree in sport psychology and sports science from the University of Arizona Global Campus.

“I know for a fact that if you call (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Dak Prescott, he would tell you what kind of person that I am,” Stalworth said. “Because when were in Starkville, Mississippi, the day that we found out his mother passed, I was one of the first people who went and saw him. That was our connection. My mother passed when I was kid. I was able to go to him and talked to him about that dynamic.”

Stallworth also worked with Preston Smith, who played at Stephenson High before his time at Mississippi State.

Stallworth acknowledged that there were some issues within the Falcons’ weight room.

“You look at your roster in thirds,” Stallworth said. “You’ve got your top-of-the-line guys. The Grady Jarretts, David Onyematas, Chris Lindstroms, Jessie Bates, A.J. Terrell. Those top, premier guys. Great workers. In a survey like this, those are the guys who don’t typically worry about it because they are always about their business.

“There’s a group in the middle.

“Then you have those bottom guys,” Stallworth said.

He felt that Arthur Smith set the tone for the weight room.

“This is why I love him so much, as a former offensive lineman, he believes in true toughness,” Stallworth said. “He valued the weight room. He always wanted to know the guys who were not working hard. ... He didn’t want to let anybody slide. He wanted to know so he could press somebody the same way.”

Stallworth said he had an open-door policy.

“Don’t be an locker-room lawyer,” Stallworth said. “Don’t avoid me. Come into my office.”

The “negative culture” comment stung.

“In my three years in Atlanta, I’ve never raised my voice at anyone,” Stallworth said. “I’ve never cussed at anybody. In 2021 and 2024, a football coach who never raised his voice and didn’t cuss at anybody. I would say the hardest job in the NFL is being the strength coach because you don’t control playing time.

“These players make substantially more than you and everybody has a trainer or somebody in their ear telling them I can do this, I can do that. They go on social media and feel like they’ve got all of the answers outside of the building. Instead of coming in and asking questions so that we can explain why we do everything within our process.”

Dealing with the ranking was hard for Stallworth.

“So, I’m always reminded of something that my father told me,” Stallworth said. “There’s three sides to every story. Your side, my side and the truth, and the truth is usually lays somewhere between the two.”

He’s hoping to continue his career in the NFL and hopes the report card isn’t a career killer.

“I hope not, but I would say this also, I serve a God who is greater than any player who touched that green (grass),” Stallworth said. “If it’s meant to be, he will open up an opportunity. Even if that means being an assistant and starting back over, so be it.”

Stallworth believes in his work.

“I know for the three years that I was in Atlanta and the three years I was in New York, those six years, I worked for Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge and Arthur Smith,” Stallworth said. “I’ve got three head coaches and plenty of players that would all come and say ... whoever said that, was probably somebody who doesn’t want to work.”

New Falcons coach Raheem Morris didn’t rehire Stallworth and brought in his own performance staff.

John Griffin was named director of player performance, Josh Nelson the director of performance science, Paul Constantine as the associate director of strength and conditioning and Erik Jernstrom as assistant director of strength and conditioning.

The Falcons refurbished weight room.

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