Not lost in the hullaballoo of Tuesday’s introductory press conference for new TCU football coach Sonny Dykes was a point of emphasis for both Dykes and TCU AD Jeremiah Donati: strength and conditioning and injury prevention.
“When we started the search in early November, we laid out some criteria that we were looking for in an ideal candidate.” Donati said Tuesday. One of the six criteria was, according to TCU’s AD, “someone who could present a comprehensive and holistic strength and conditioning and injury prevention plan.”
Just moments later, Sonny Dykes mentioned strength and conditioning as one of his three steps to playing championship-level football.
“Player development is so critical to building a college football program,” Dykes said, “And that all begins with strength and conditioning.”
Dykes is bringing Kaz Kazadi, his strength and conditioning coach at SMU, with him as they cross the metroplex.
“We’re really fortunate to have Kaz Kazadi here, who I think is the best strength and conditioning coach in college athletics.” Dykes said Tuesday, “Kaz will get with our players and will build something really special. He does an outstanding job of doing that. You guys will have an opportunity to get to know Kaz and see what he does for our program. “
Kazadi should be a familiar name for Frog fans, as he was a member of the Baylor Bears coaching staff from 2007-2016. Kazadi famously got into a heated argument with a TCU fan following the Frogs’ 45-10 victory over Baylor in 2010.
More significantly, Kazadi was named in one of the more heinous lawsuits in the midst of the Baylor sexual assault scandal that spanned from 2012-2018. The lawsuit, filed in May of 2017, claimed that the mother of a victim contacted Kazadi regarding the alleged sexual assault. From the ESPN article linked above (I encourage you to read the whole piece for context):
The lawsuit stated the woman’s mother contacted an assistant football coach — later identified as former strength and conditioning coach Kaz Kazadi — in July 2012 and told him about the alleged rape. Kazadi brought two players into his office and questioned them, but they said they were just “fooling around” and it was “just a little bit of playtime,” according to a legal filing by three Baylor regents in a separate lawsuit.
“The assistant football coach reportedly spoke to other Baylor football coaches who engaged in victim-blaming,” the woman’s lawsuit stated. “Despite taking no further action to determine the veracity of the gang rape allegations, the assistant football coach concluded that the accusations were in a ‘gray area’ and there was no definitive evidence of sexual assault.”
Briles’ involvement in what happened next was first reported in August 2017 in “Violated,” a book about the sexual assault crisis at Baylor. Briles’ attorney Mark Lanier was quoted as having said that Kazadi told Briles in passing that he had met with a volleyball player’s mother who was concerned about her daughter “partying” with football players. “Briles asked if there was anything else ‘we needed to do’ and Kaz said no,” according to Lanier. Kazadi has not responded to requests for an interview.
Briles didn’t know it was a rape allegation until a year later, after hearing it from then-volleyball coach Jim Barnes in April 2013, Briles’ attorney said.
From what I could find, this is the only place in the Baylor sexual assault scandal where Kazadi’s name appears. That being said, this alone is legitimate ground to ask about Kazadi’s hire-ability.
When asked about Kazadi, one person within TCU’s athletic department noted that Kazadi stayed on through the transition at Baylor - from Briles to interim head coach Jim Grobe to the hiring of Temple head coach Matt Rhule.
After that 2016 year of transition, Kazadi chose to join the Dallas Cowboys staff for a brief period, rather than stay on at Baylor in a reassigned role outside the coaching staff under Rhule. His time with the Cowboys lasted just a few months before becoming the S&C coach at Arkansas State.
When Kazadi was hired, Arkansas State’s Athletic Director Terry Mohajir said,
“Obviously, with anybody from Baylor, you always ask a lot more questions than you normally do,” ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir said. “You have a lot of conversations, and we felt really comfortable bringing him on.”
After one year at Arkansas State Kazadi joined Sonny Dykes’ incoming staff at SMU. Before being hired, Kazadi underwent a thorough vetting process.
“Well the big thing with him is that there was no one who was more vetted than him when we hired him.” Dykes said, “Just because of the Baylor situation, we went through every channel, investigated everything, spent more time, lawyers talking to lawyers, and the same thing kept coming back, ‘hey look, he’s good to go.’”
Donati echoed Dykes and Mohajir when asked about TCU’s efforts to vet Kazadi and whether or not he spoke to Kaz prior to joining the staff.
“One, yes I did talk to him. We felt comfortable with the work SMU did, but we also did our own,” Donati said to a small pool of press after the main press conference ended.
“That was direct outreach to Baylor to get a full understanding. [It was] a different time, right? One of the things that really hurt Baylor was that they didn’t have any policies, they didn’t have any education.”
“That was really why they came down on the university and not so much the individuals,” Donati continued, “is all the things we know and practice and preach every day just weren’t commonplace there. I think you’ll have a chance to talk to him, I think he’s learned a lot. It’s a different world now, and there’s a heightened awareness, and those are all good things.
“Like every employee we bring in there’s a very comprehensive vetting process, a background search that goes through Title IX, and NCAA Compliance and all those things, so we felt good about it.”
As for his strength and conditioning abilities, Kazadi has long been known as one of the best in the business, earning the American Football Coaches Association’s Strength Coach of the Year award in 2013.
Kazadi also has a ‘no surprise’ rule with his athletes, which he detailed in an interview with Life Fitness during his time with SMU.
Kaz Kazadi wants “no surprises” in his strength and conditioning program. The assistant athletic director for human performance at Southern Methodist University, who also serves as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Mustangs football team, Kazadi makes sure his athletes go through a constant, thorough medical background check and assessment while competing in his program.
“I want to do no harm. That’s someone’s son or daughter,” Kazadi says when describing what’s most important to him as a coach. “So, I have a ‘no surprise rule’ with my athletes.”
“He does many different things.” Dykes told everyone Tuesday, “Not just making players bigger, stronger, and faster, but dealing with injury prevention, and emphasis on nutrition, and emphasis on mental training, and all those things that I think contribute to championship level football programs.”
When asked later about Kaz’s approach, Dykes continued:
“Well just a holistic approach. You know, understanding that it really begins with recovery. Recover is sleep, rest, nutrition, hydration, dynamic warmups and stretching, joint flexibility. Just specifically things that are designed for injury prevention. All of those things are really, really important.”
“I think like anything else, he and I talk every day about what we want practice to look like. What’s going on with the players, are they tired. We use GPS things to let us know what the load on athletes is to make sure we’re not overworking guys. So we take a very holistic and very scientific approach to try and do everything we can to prevent injuries, keep our players as fresh as we can, help them recover and allow them to get bigger, stronger, and faster.”
Kazadi joins an almost completely new staff under Dykes, with Malcolm Kelly and Paul Gonzales as the only holdovers. As for Dykes’ hiring of Kazadi, TCU’s new head coach ultimately feels confident in his decision.
“There was no issue, as far as I was concerned. Again no one was more vetted than he was, and he’s the very best at his job and handles stuff better than anyone I’ve been around.”