1986: M.S.S. Sports Fitness and Health
In his 12th year serving as Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Performance at the U.S. Naval Academy, Michael Brass is leading a team of hundreds of people who share one goal: to make better athletes out of Midshipmen students.
With Brass leading its strength and conditioning training, Navy has turned the tides in its football program’s fortunes. The Midshipmen are 83-45, with a .648 winning percentage, over the last decade.
Brass previously was Georgia Southern University’s head strength and conditioning coach and assistant athletic director for athletic performance. While there, Brass was named the 1998 and 1999 National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Professional of the Year for the Southern Conference.
Before joining Georgia Southern, Brass was head strength and conditioning coach at Tulane University from 1992-96. He also spent two seasons leading the strength and conditioning efforts at Dartmouth College from 1990-92, after earning his first position at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as strength coach in 1985.
Brass earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Doane College in Nebraska in 1985 before attending the United States Sports Academy where he earned a master’s in Sports Fitness and Health in 1986.
Coach Brass said he attributes getting his first full-time job at Wisconsin-Whitewater to his successful mentorship he completed there, while studying at the Academy.
“Studying at the Academy really set me up to get a program started,” Brass said. “It was the in-roads to my first position.”
Brass took some time to sit down with the Alumni Network and talk about what he loves about his job, as well as some pointers for students looking to get into the strength and conditioning field. The Academy now offers a bachelor’s in Strength and Conditioning.
Alumni Network: You’ve been successful in your time at Navy, playing an integral part in turning its athletic programs around. What is your biggest challenge on the job, and how do you hope to overcome it?
Michael Brass: I don’t look as things as challenges, just opportunities for improvement in what I do. One of most important things I can do heading this department is successfully balancing everything in the program, or avoiding highs and lows. I want to stay as balanced as possible as far as personnel goes. We have 30 varsity teams here, nine full-time strength coaches, 30 head coaches, hundreds of assistant head coaches, etc. There is a lot of scheduling and ensuring that every team is in the best training models.
Alumni Network: What has been the most rewarding part of working at the Naval Academy?
Michael Brass: It’s been watching the kids develop over time and have success on the field, as well as success once they’ve graduated. A lot of things they’ve learned here carry on into their professional lives. Seeing the students come back and visit years later is great, too. They develop from freshmen and have great performances on the field and then in their lives.
Alumni Network: How did your education at the Academy contribute to your ability to dramatically improve the physical conditions—and ultimately, the on-field performance—of Navy’s football players?
Michael Brass: That’s very gracious, but I had very little part in turning the program around because many people have been involved in that. The United States Sports Academy set my foundation and gave me a good knowledge base, and it assured me, more importantly, that it was a profession I wanted to pursue. Exposure to education in that field (with my Academy mentorship at Wisconsin-Whitewater) let me know if I would like it.
Alumni Network: If you had to pass along one piece of advice to anyone going into the strength and conditioning specialty, and who wants to become an athletic director, what would you tell them?
Michael Brass: Be a good learner and listener. Surround yourself with the best people possible and learn from them. Whether you’re starting out, going to conventions and picking people’s brains, or whether you’re farther along in your career and hiring and managing people, learn from their experiences. You can do this job your whole life and still learn something new every day. You can be a teacher, but you have to be a listener and a learner. Also, become knowledgeable in as many different disciplines as possible. When I look to hire people now, I look for certain strengths. There are a lot of things involved in strength and conditioning these days and the specialties within it. Learn as much as possible in order to make yourself more marketable and successful once you do get a position.
Alumni Network: What was a memorable moment for you during your education at the Academy?
Michael Brass: The neatest thing that I liked about it was that everybody was there for the same purpose. The students I surrounded myself with wanted to go into my area of study, too. The best moments we had were sitting in my apartment after school with students from all over the country just talking shop and brainstorming. We’d get together and talk about what we had done in the past. Back then, the area of strength and conditioning was still just getting started with research, so we had a lot to talk about.