When Chris Doyle arrived in Iowa City in 1999, he stopped by the DMV to get an Iowa driver's license. Newly hired as the strength and conditioning coach on Kirk Ferentz's first-year staff, Doyle was on his seventh college town in 10 years. So when the clerk asked him if he'd like a license that expires in five years or 10 years, he had to laugh: He took the five-year license.
Today, Doyle marvels that he's had to return to the Iowa City DMV a couple of times since. One of college football's top strength and conditioning gurus, Doyle, 48, has become the cornerstone of a program known for transforming unheralded recruits into all-Big Ten players.
Ferentz has called Doyle the team's "most important coach," recruits cite him as a key reason they came to Iowa, and former Hawkeyes credit him for launching their successful professional careers. Mountainous offensive linemen like Brandon Scherff, 14BS, and Marshal Yanda, 07BA, along with hardnosed defenders like Bob Sanders and Jonathan Babineaux, 05BA, have all developed under Doyle's wing before finding success in the NFL.
Doyle has trained nearly 200 student-athletes who have advanced to compete professionally, including 57 Hawkeyes selected in the NFL Draft over the past 15 years. Doyle has also mentored 60 former assistants who now have careers in the field, including 21 who are head strength and conditioning coaches. In 2012, the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Association named Doyle a master coach—the highest honor in his profession.
Much has changed since Doyle began at Iowa 19 years ago. In 2015, UI opened the $55-million Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center—an ultra-modern training facility next door to Kinnick Stadium that some jokingly refer to as Chris Doyle's playground. The building's centerpiece is the hangar-like, 23,000-square foot weight room where Doyle molds gangly freshmen into elite athletes.
New technology has become just as important to Doyle's work as the rows of power racks that line his weight room. Today, student- athletes are equipped with sensors that monitor their daily activities, tracking everything from their sleep patterns to their progress in the weight room. On the field, players wear GPS trackers that provide Doyle with reams of data about acceleration, exertion, and wear and tear on the body. Doyle says the metrics allow him to better customize workouts and observe long- term trends.
Earlier this spring, the youngest of Doyle's three sons, Dillon, announced that he had accepted Ferentz's scholarship offer to play football at Iowa. A junior linebacker at Iowa City West, he'll join his father and older brother Declan, who currently works as a student assistant for the program. Chris and wife Tia's middle son, Donovan, is a freshman wrestler at Harvard.
A Massachusetts native who played on the offensive line at Boston University, Doyle credits Iowa's head coach for building a culture that has made this Midwest college town an ideal place to raise a family and spend a career. "Kirk Ferentz is the best in the business, and he surrounded himself with people when I got here that I saw as mentors and role models," Doyle says. "When I was just starting out, whenever I wondered how I should act as a professional, I just had to look around the room."