pink lacoste polo Bennie Wylie understands the relationship between struggle and strength
NORMAN Bennie Wylie is a strength coach, which means there are a few things he understands naturally.
You need pain to get better. You need struggle to grow. Things worth doing are usually hard, and progress tends to reveal itself in due time.
Wylie Oklahoma football’s new director of sports performance knows all this because he was 15 years old when he moved out on his own. Wylie grew up in small town Mexia, Texas, and his father was a school janitor who worked long days to make ends meet.
But Wylie has said his father was also an alcoholic who was physically and emotionally abusive. That’s why Wylie first started lifting weights and building his body. He wanted to protect his mother and himself.
“You may have a rough start, but that doesn’t determine where you’re gonna end,” Wylie said.
Wylie had a brother who left home and a sister who got pregnant. He had an uncle move in, and his mother who Wylie adored wouldn’t leave.
So when things finally got too bad, Wylie made a change for himself. At 15, he moved into a friend’s pool house.
He got a job at Sonic, where he ate lunch and dinner every day. He paid his own rent and signed his own report cards.
And also, to find an outlet for his pain, he got involved in everything he could find. Wylie became an Eagle Scout and band captain. He spent three years in the Texas Baptist Choir.
He was also a pretty good athlete.
“Sometimes you just do it,” Wylie said. “You don’t know that it’s hard. If you don’t have a choice, you just get it done.”
Wylie’s eventually earned a scholarship to play football and run track at Sam Houston State. He worked multiple jobs in college and also became a team captain and all conference running back.
“Even to go to college was my first big break,” Wylie said. “To get out of Mexia, Texas, and to get a full scholarship to go play football and run track, that kind of started it all.”
Slowly, Wylie’s talents and gifts started to shine through. He worked as a graduate assistant and led strength and conditioning at Sam Houston State. He graduated in May of 1999, and a few days later, he became an assistant strength coach for the Dallas Cowboys, training Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
His boss in Dallas was former OU strength coach Joe Juraszek, and Juraszek’s mentorship helped Wylie became head strength coach at Texas Tech in 2002. At Tech, Wylie trained Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree and helped coach Mike Leach’s teams build the best era in school history.
Also in Lubbock, Wylie got to know promising coaches in Bill Bedenbaugh, Dennis Simmons, Ruffin McNeill and a kid named Lincoln Riley.
Wylie’s path took him to Tennessee for a year, then Texas, where he spent three years working for Mack Brown. After Brown was fired, Wylie moved into the private sector and ran his own training facility near Abilene, Texas. There, he trained average citizens and elite athletes alike. He also worked with the Air Force and Navy, helping devise more efficient workouts and also learning even more about himself from his subjects.
Something about Wylie also stuck with Lincoln Riley through all their years apart. In the past few seasons, every time Riley interviewed for a head coaching job, Riley would give Wylie a call.
If his happens, would you be interested?
Earlier this month, after Jerry Schmidt left for Texas A Riley called with a different pitch.
Hey, I actually have a job this time.
“I wanted to make sure my mind wasn’t just settled on one guy, but it all kept coming back to Bennie Wylie,” Riley said.
So Wylie took the call and headed to Oklahoma, the same university where his wife, Jen, played one year of soccer. Wylie and his wife have 12 year old twin boys and a 3 year old girl.
Now, Wylie knows he’s stepping into an elite position. Oklahoma has only had four previous strength coaches, all with long and respected tenures.
“They’re absolutely big shoes to fill, and it is intimidating,” Wylie said. “But that’s why you come to a place like this. You come to fall right into that. You come to be better. You want to grow. You don’t want to stay the same.”
Wylie’s job at OU is to train athletes, to make them able to perform at a peak level. But the nature of position also means he’s in charge of shaping the mindset and character of the Oklahoma program. In the offseason, he’s in charge of roughly 120 athletes.
“As good as he is a strength coach, he’s probably even better at building and molding the mentality we want our program to have here,” Riley said.
In group settings, Wylie will run and lift along with his players. He wants them to know he’s been with them through every rep.
And in the settings that matter most, he’ll work with players one on one, whether it’s training or talking about life.