By the time Barry Rubin played his final down of football at Northwestern State University in 1979, he had all but abandoned his dream of an NFL career. Sometimes, though, things aren't the way they seem.
When the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp opens next month, Rubin will begin his 16th season as an NFL strength & conditioning coach – a distinguished career highlighted by a Super Bowl championship, a Pro Bowl appearance and induction into the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame.
Taking advantage of the down time before the grueling season begins, Rubin spent part of his vacation time visiting with family in Monroe and Mer Rouge where his sister, Lori Spires, resides.
Rubin was exposed to weight training in the late 1960s at a time when strength & conditioning was still in its infancy. While in elementary school, he began lifting with his older brother, Mark.
When Rubin reported to Lee Junior High, Neville's feeder school, he was greeted by Al Miller. Now the head strength and conditioning coach of the Oakland Raiders, Miller was a trailblazer in the field.
“I was very fortunate to get started on the right track at such a young age,” Rubin said. “Al Miller — what a start that was. He really used to put it on us.”
Moving on to Neville, Rubin played for the legendary Charlie Brown.
“When I moved up to Neville, coach Brown put Willie Ragan in charge of the weight room and he did a wonderful job. I was very fortunate to have learned from some very, very good people. That's how I got my start.”
Rubin signed with LSU as a tight end/punter, before spending the final three years of his college career at Northwestern where he trained under Kent Johnston.
Rubin was reunited with Miller in 1981 when he was hired as a graduate assistant while pursuing his master's degree at Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM). He was promoted to head strength coach when Miller was hired by Bear Bryant at Alabama in 1982. Rubin's resume' includes three stints at ULM (1981-83, 87-90 and 94) and a stop at LSU (1984-85).
Meanwhile, Johnston landed in the NFL as head strength coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When coach Ray Perkins' staff was let go, Johnston hooked up with the Green Bay Packers. That's when Rubin caught his big break.
“Kent and I maintained our friendship through the years,” Rubin said. “After he had been in Green Bay a couple of years, Mike Holmgren told him he could hire an assistant. I was at NLU — ULM at the time — and Kent called and offered me the position in 1995.”
Rubin has never forgotten the two men who influenced his career the most.
“You always need people to help pave the way for you,” Rubin said. “The two people who helped me the most were Al Miller and Kent Johnston.”
Johnston remains in the NFL as head strength coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Joining the Packers while Brett Favre was at the apex of his career, Rubin arrived in Green Bay just in time for a glorious run.
In Rubin's first three years as an NFL coach, the Packers lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1995 NFC championship game, defeated the New England Patriots in the 1996 Super Bowl and lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the 1997 Super Bowl.
Rubin was promoted to head strength coach when Johnston followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1998. In all, he spent 11 years with the Packers, seven as head strength coach.
In 2005, Rubin experienced his first taste of the business side of the NFL when the coaching staff was fired.
Rubin, however, has too many fond memories of Green Bay to hold a grudge toward the Packers.
“I loved it at Green Bay. My mother (the late Eileen Rubin) was from Wisconsin and we used to go up there to visit my grandparents. The Packers were my childhood team and I was able to coach there and go to two Super Bowls with the Packers. I loved my years there and being part of that organization,” Rubin said. “(Being fired) hurt, but that's part of it. I'm not the first person it's happened to and I won't be the last. I'm very thankful and appreciative of the job at Philadelphia and count my blessings every day.”
Out of the NFL for two years, Rubin was hired as the Eagles' assistant strength coach in 2008 and promoted to his current position three years later. Rubin was thrilled to join the staff of Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, whom he had coached with at Green Bay.
“We have a phenomenal head coach in Andy Reid,” Rubin said. “He's a very positive person. He knows everything that's going on, everywhere. He doesn't miss a thing. Our players really, really respect him.
“The head coach is the one who sets the example and coach Reid really backs our program and emphasizes how important it is, which makes our job that much easier.”
Rubin says the Eagles also have a first-class owner.
“We have a great owner in Jeffrey Lurie,” Rubin said. “Any kind of resources you need, he'll make them available to you. He supports our team to the nth degree. Mr. Lurie's not just a wealthy owner that's in it for the fun of it. We're fortunate to have an owner who understands football and how to run a team. I'm not saying there aren't other good owners out there, be he's top drawer.”
Of course, no article on the Eagles would be complete without mentioning arguably the toughest and most rabid fans in pro sports.
“Our fans are very passionate about the Eagles and all of our pro sports teams,” Rubin said. “Baseball (the Phillies), football and hockey (the Flyers) sell out all the time and basketball (the 76ers) is getting better. Our fans live and die with their teams and they're knowledgeable about their teams, which is great. They want us to win so bad. And believe me, we want to win so bad, too.”
One of Rubin's chief responsibilities is overseeing the Eagles' nine-week voluntary offseason program.
“I would say that 95-98 percent of our players were here on an every day basis,” Rubin said. “The workouts aren't mandatory, but they understand the benefits of it. The program involves all aspects of strength and conditioning, some class room work and a little on the field work, which makes for a real good offseason. The number one priority during this time is strength and conditioning. In training camp, the emphasis is on football. We still continue strength and conditioning, but not like during the offseason.”
Rubin was encouraged by the team's offseason efforts.
“We have an exceptional quarterback. Michael Vick did a superb job of leading the team in the offseason,” Rubin said. “We had a really, really good offseason. We have some exceptional talent on our team. We have the capability of being a great football team, but you never know. There's such little difference between the worst team and the best team in the NFL. It all comes down to the intangibles like the injury factor and the turnover factor. You're going to have injuries, but you have to stay relatively healthy.”
Rubin says the Eagles are hungry after missing the playoffs last year.
“We won our first game, but we got off to a slow start,” Rubin said. “At the very end, we missed the playoffs by one game. We just didn't make it happen. We have to make it happen this year. The guys worked out with a great attitude during the offseason and that's a good start to the season. I think they're itching to go and want to redeem themselves.”
Winds of change
When Rubin began lifting his brother's weights, he was ahead of his time.
Today, athletes who are not involved in year-around training tend to fall behind.
“Through the years, strength training has evolved,” Rubin said. “Strength training is not just lifting weights; it's one big puzzle. It's weight lifting, conditioning, speed and agility, flexibility; trying to balance the body. Of course, nutrition plays a huge part.”
The strength and conditioning boom over the years has made Rubin's job easier.
“Almost all colleges have good strength programs and good strength coaches,” Rubin said. “It's not like it's a major adjustment when they get to the NFL.”
Rubin says NFL strength programs tend to be geared more toward specialization than at the college level.
“In high school and college, you're always striving to get stronger and bigger,” Rubin said. “Once you get to the pros, you've usually finished growing. We'll have three or four different types of programs, depending on their situation. You're still working on strength and conditioning, but it becomes a little more individualized as they get along. Maybe age, whether someone is coming off of an injury, or experience or lack of experience in weight training determines what kind of program they need to be on.”
NFL coaches work notoriously long hours. Being a coach's wife (at all levels of football) requires a great deal of understanding and patience. Rubin says his wife, Nicole, fully supports his coaching endeavors.
“I have a great family, a great wife,” Rubin said. “My nieces and nephews have been great. I've had phenomenal support from Nicole. She's from Michigan and knows football. She's the best. I'm a lucky guy.”