Hatching a champion
LSU program has ties to Baton Rouge strength coach, Gayle Hatch


Advocate sportswriter


Smiling requires fewer muscles than frowning. Weightlifting requires abundantly more than both. The easiest lift these days for Baton Rouge strength coach Gayle Hatch is raising the corners of his mouth in a proud grin.

"Four years after Tennessee installed the Hatch system, they won the national championship," Hatch said. "Four years after Miami installed the Hatch system, they won the national championship.

"Four years after LSU installed it, LSU is playing for a national championship."

The Tigers (12-1) will play Oklahoma (12-1) Jan. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series title game, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Hatch said he'll be there. He expects LSU to win, largely because of its strength and conditioning program, which he helped sculpt.

"They're physically ready," he said of the Tigers. "I think they're physically superior to Oklahoma."

Hatch, 64, taught LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt his system of weightlifting in the late 1980s, when Moffitt was on staff at John Curtis High School in suburban New Orleans. Curtis is the runaway leader in Louisiana football state championships with 18.

Moffitt left Curtis in 1994 to become assistant strength coach at Tennessee. A year later, he helped Johnny Long, a Parkview Baptist High School graduate and former Junior Olympics weightlifter under Hatch, join the Volunteers staff. Together they put in the Hatch method.

"Tommy needed another Hatch man," Hatch said, grinning.

Tennessee continued the system and won the national championship in 1998, after Moffitt left for Miami. The Hurricanes didn't finish in the top 10 in his two seasons there, but as the weightlifting program progressed, its benefits surfaced.

Gayle Hatch, taught LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, left, his system of weightlifting in the late 1980s.



Veterans of the Hatch system at Miami, who started the program as freshmen and sophomores, finished No. 2 in 2000 and won the 2001 national title.

By then, Moffitt -- and the Hatch system -- had helped win a Southeastern Conference championship at LSU, where coach Nick Saban convinced Moffitt to ply his trade after Saban was hired before the 2000 season.

"Tommy just missed out on a championship ring at Tennessee," Hatch said. "He helped Butch Davis build Miami back to national prominence but missed out on a ring there too by coming to LSU.

"It's time for Tommy to get that national championship ring. I feel confident he's going to do it. The way the future looks here, he could receive more than one."

Hatch's system has its roots in Olympic-style weightlifting, but it was molded by association with the first strength program in pro football history, a program that helped the San Diego Chargers win the AFL championship in 1963.

Fifteen years ago, Hatch showed the system to Moffitt, who applied it to what has become a celebrated career as a trainer of college athletes. In 1999, his peers named him College Football Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.

Moffitt said he owes a debt of gratitude to Hatch.

"What I've done is taken his theories and methodology for training weightlifters and adapted it for football," Moffitt said. "He taught me the finer points of the weightlifting exercises. He taught me how to teach technique. He taught me how to determine how much weight the person should put on the bar.

"He's been a major influence in the things that I've done. I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for coach Hatch."

Another Hatch pupil, Mike Robinson, nearly won a national championship ring at McNeese State. The Cowboys played in the Division I-AA title game in 2002, four seasons after he installed the Hatch system, but lost to Western Kentucky.

"This year I thought they'd go all the way," Hatch said, lamenting McNeese's first-round playoff loss to Northern Arizona after being ranked No. 1 all season.

An LSU victory in the Sugar Bowl would add to the résumé of the Hatch system, which has a link to the foundation of LSU's 1958 national title.

How it started

Baton Rouge native and LSU graduate Alvin Roy became a believer in the power of weightlifting while in the Army in Europe soon after World War II ended.

Roy helped manage the U.S. Olympic Team that won the weightlifting gold medal in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland. The myth that weightlifting slowed athletes down caused coaches to be wary of using weights in those days, but Roy saw how explosive Olympic champions had to be to execute their lifts.

He incorporated the principle into a regimen for football players.

Before Roy's career in the pros, he started a program at Istrouma High School, which reversed years of domination by Baton Rouge High and became the most successful football program in the state in the 1950s. Billy Cannon, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1959 at LSU, was an Istrouma star.

Roy also trained Jimmy Taylor, who was one of the few LSU players who lifted weights when he played for the Tigers (1956-57) on his way to championships with the Green Bay Packers and a Most Valuable Player award.

Another Roy pupil was Hatch, who would become a professional basketball player and a champion weightlifter and weightlifting coach.

Paul Dietzel, who became LSU's coach in 1955, didn't have a winning season in his first three years with the Tigers. He saw what Roy did for Istrouma and asked Roy to create a weight room and install a weightlifting program at LSU.

LSU, led by Cannon, won the national championship the next year.

"Dietzel didn't hire Alvin, but he put together the weightlifting program for the Tigers," Hatch said. "He had a big impact on that team."

The Chargers took note and later made Roy the first strength coach in professional sports. The Chargers won the AFL that season.

Football historians, including Jerry Magee, who began covering the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1961, also link the team's success to the first use of anabolic steroids in pro football.

Magee wrote in Pro Football Weekly in 2002 that he saw Chargers coach Sid Gillman encouraging players to take "pink pills" with their meals in training camp. Published reports credit Roy's fascination with Russian training methods during his time in the European Theater with sparking his interest in steroids.

Hatch said he's heard reports that Roy introduced steroids to pro football.

"In all the years Alvin trained me, steroid use never occurred around me," he said. "I never saw anything like that. You have to remember, though, back in those days they didn't know about the bad side effects. It wasn't against the rules. Then as more research came out, they discovered the health problems associated with steroid use."

Hatch spent the late 1980s fighting the use of steroids in competitive weightlifting and helped introduce and pass legislation in Louisiana to classify nonprescription sale of them as a class-two felony. He pushed for the United States Weightlifting Federation to introduce random, year-round drug testing for members of the National Senior and National Junior teams.

"They can walk into my gym at any time and test any of my lifters," Hatch said. "I'm real pleased I got that passed. I feel like that has helped a lot."

Hatch said he's seen too many competitive weightlifters grow bitter and alienate themselves from their coaches because of health problems associated with steroid use, a tactic foisted upon them by their coaches.

He said coaching athletes to more than 50 roster spots on international teams and helping them win more than 40 championships hasn't made him as proud as a gesture by two of his pupils, former U.S. Olympic Team lifters Tommy Calandro and Bret Brian, three years ago.

"They presented me with their Olympic jackets," Hatch said. "You don't see many lifters do something like that for their coach."

The occasion was a banquet honoring Hatch, who was inducted into the USA Olympic Weightlifting Hall of Fame. This year Hatch and his mentor, the late Alvin Roy, were inducted into the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame.

Hatch is the only coach in both halls. LSU's annual strength and conditioning award bears Roy's name.

The Hatch System

Hatch grew up near Roy's family (on Oklahoma Street, adding a Sugar Bowl twist). Hatch learned Roy's system and then studied European training methods during the 1970s.

"I put even more emphasis on the Olympic lifts than Roy had," Hatch said. "By 1979 I had my weightlifting and strength and conditioning program established."

Hatch's system ignores the trendy machines of the high-tech age and the emphasis on bodybuilding techniques embraced by the likes of Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hatch combined Olympic lifts of free weights with plyometric and jumping drills to develop explosive strength for football players.

"Pure strength that can't be converted to athletic strength is of no use to an athlete," Hatch said, launching into an example using a former LSU football player. "A delivery man can move a refrigerator 10 yards, but he can't move it as fast as (former LSU defensive lineman) Booger McFarland can move it 10 yards.

"In Olympic-style lifts, you're standing on your feet. That's the way you play football. You're not laying on your back like you would for a bench press."

The Hatch system focuses on overall explosive strength and doesn't target body parts the way bodybuilders sculpt themselves for on-stage posing or the beach.

"In Olympic lifting and in football, your body is working as a single unit," Hatch said. "You don't use your hamstrings on one play and your pecs the next."

Football players do specific leg, hip and back work, but it's part of a system that strengthens those areas for better explosive strength in competition. Hatch said the system also demands -- and exacts -- mental toughness.

Defensive tackle Chad Lavalais, a consensus All-America, said the LSU strength and conditioning program, including an offseason running program that features Saban's infamous series of 110-yard sprints, 26 at a time, is the most demanding physical test he's ever endured.

"I'm not saying it's impossible to do," Lavalais said. "You can do it, but they make it so hard to where the games come easy. There's no game I've played in that's as hard as the 110s that we run in the offseason.

"That's a testament to the coaching staff, the strength coaches. If you go out there with the mindset that you want to get better and try to kill all these sprints and the weight training we do, when it comes time for the game, it's a breeze."

Lavalais said players on other teams say they don't do nearly as much as the Tigers. Then he laughs, like someone with a satisfying secret.

Blueprint for champions

John Curtis was already the premier high school football program in the state and on its way to further dominance in 1988 when coach J.T. Curtis gave Moffitt a list of names of strength coaches. Curtis wanted Moffitt to learn as much as possible and make the school's program better.

Gayle Hatch was one of those names. John Stucky, then the strength coach at Arkansas, was another. Stucky later hired Moffitt to work at Tennessee.

Moffitt used the Hatch system for training football players but also helped Aaron Ausmus rise from the ranks of the virtual unknown to NCAA indoor champion in the shot put in 1997.

When Moffitt left Tennessee for Miami, Chris Carlisle took his place. Stucky later retired, and Long took over Tennessee's program, ensuring the Hatch method would continue there.

Carlisle, who doesn't know Hatch but uses his system, is now the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Southern California, which is ranked No. 1 in both polls and hopes to stake a claim to the national championship with a Rose Bowl victory Jan. 1 over Michigan.

One of Carlisle's assistants at USC is Ausmus, Moffitt's former pupil. The Hatch system is spreading, and in some fairly respectable neighborhoods.

"If you were to take what Southern Cal does in the weight room, and what they do at Tennessee, and what we do here, and put them all side by side, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference," Moffitt said. "Miami too. Those are four pretty good teams."

According to the BCS standings, they are four of the top nine teams in the nation this season. LSU is No. 2, one spot ahead of USC.

The Hatch system is part of the blueprint for another champion LSU fans are aware of: running back Jay Lucas of Redemptorist, who has helped the Wolves to two state football titles and a state basketball title in the last 13 months. Lucas could become another Hatch man in purple and gold.

LSU defensive end Marcus Spears said the team's durability owes a lot to what the Tigers call their Fourth Quarter program, the offseason conditioning work.

"This year we didn't have that many guys get injured, and that's a tribute to the workouts," Spears said. "Guys are in shape and able to play for 60 minutes. That's where we get that motto."

Offensive tackle Rodney Reed said the team chemistry -- which Saban said is the best he's seen in 30 years of coaching -- was built in large part during the offseason running program and in the weight room.

"When you struggle with something that's so hard," Reed said, "and you have to work with each other and help each other out to get through some of it, it really builds team unity, and that's something coach Moffitt does a good job of."

Reed said one of the best examples of strength and effort making something happen came near the end of LSU's 17-14 victory over Ole Miss, when Rebels quarterback Eli Manning faced a fourth-and-long situation. Lavalais surged at the snap, sending Ole Miss guard Doug Buckles back on his heels.

Buckles stepped on Manning's foot, tripping him and effectively clinching an LSU victory that kept Ole Miss from winning the SEC Western Division championship over the Tigers.

The play by Lavalais was one of those explosive moments Hatch describes, a player coming out of his stance with swiftness and power to make something happen on his feet, just as in an Olympic-style lift.

It might never be celebrated on Muscle Beach, but it just might be one of the ingredients that helps win a national title -- tying together a system and a lineage that dates to LSU's championship season of 1958.

Hatch smiled at the thought.

"It's like it's coming full circle," he said.