Why UT Vols say $660,000 renovation to weight room was worth cost

Blake Toppmeyer, Knoxville News Sentinel

The renovations for the LaPorte Strength & Conditioning Facility at the Anderson Training Center cost nearly $660,000, according to records obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee via an open-records request.

The Tennessee weight room's face lift involved installation of new flooring and equipment.

It’s clear from the renovation that director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald, hired in January, favors free weights over machines.

The renovation began in April and finished in May.

The flooring portion of the renovation cost $140,540. The weight room equipment and installation cost $518,769.91.

The total price tag for the project was $659,309.91.

“If you’re going to lift weights, you want to have the most up-to-date stuff that’s out there, so we wanted to make sure that we had that,” coach Jeremy Pruitt said last month at a Big Orange Caravan stop in Kingsport.

Sorinex Exercise Equipment, based in Lexington, S.C., was the project vendor.

The weight room equipment order included dumbbells, medicine balls, heavy bags, 45-pound chains and sled carts.

“We want to make sure that when we spend our money, we put the student-athletes first,” Pruitt said. “When we’re recruiting football players to Tennessee, we want to make sure they understand that we’re going to pour everything that we’ve got, which is available to us, to help them develop as a student first and then as a football player. To do that, you’ve got to invest in the weight room, and we did.”

Improving Tennessee’s strength and conditioning and limiting injuries will be one of Pruitt’s tasks as he looks to jump-start a team that went 4-8 last season. The Vols lacked physicality in the trenches last year and also were plagued by injuries.

Pruitt tapped Fitzgerald to lead the strength program. He is Tennessee's fourth strength coach in as many seasons.

Fitzgerald spent the past four seasons as the Houston Texans' strength coach. He also worked as the head strength coach in the college ranks at Penn State, South Carolina and Harvard.

Along with the weight room renovation, UT increased its financial commitment to the personnel on its football strength staff.

The NCAA allows football programs to have a five-person strength staff.

The Vols dedicated $905,000 in salaries to Fitzgerald and his four assistant strength coaches. Of that, $625,000 is going to Fitzgerald. Butch Jones' final five-man strength staff made a combined $650,000.

“We were prepared to make an investment in that area,” first-year athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in March.

Fitzgerald trumpeted the renovated weight room in a team-produced video published in April.

“You’re going to know when you walk in," Fitzgerald said in the video, "this is where football players train; this is where the best players in the country train as they get ready for their NFL careers and become dominant players in the best conference in America, the Southeastern Conference.”