He became known as “Mr. Big” around the University of Nebraska athletic complex because he always was thinking big when it came to projects, colleagues say. After 37 years of distinguished service for the Huskers, “Mr. Big” is moving on.
Boyd Epley has been hired by the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Spring, Colo., as director of coaching performance, a position recently created for Epley.
Epley’s last day at Nebraska will be July 28.
The 59-year-old Epley on Monday read parts of a fond farewell e-mail from Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson. Pederson began the e-mail with “Mr. Big” and went on to write that Epley rose to the exalted stature of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne in terms of people who had the most significant impact on the Husker football program developing into a nationally respected powerhouse.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” Epley said.
The Lincoln resident spent 34 years as Nebraska head strength coach for football, becoming known by many as the godfather of his profession. In June of 2003, Pederson asked Epley to become an associate athletic director to help spearhead design and construction of the $50 million athletic facilities improvement project that is nearing completion.
This past February, Epley’s associate athletic director tag was removed and his title became “creative director” for the project.
“Steve asked me to report directly to him on projects that are pretty much top-secret,” Epley said Monday. “It was all between Steve and I.”
Pederson invited Epley and wife Jane to be guests Sept. 2 when Nebraska opens the 2006 season against Louisiana Tech at Memorial Stadium.
“I worked on the project for three years, and I’ll get to come back and see it all put together,” Epley said.
Before becoming part of the facilities project, Epley founded a strength and conditioning program at Nebraska that evolved into the envy of athletic programs nationwide. Lindy’s magazine recognized Epley as one of the 100 most important college football figures of the 20th century. Also on the list were Devaney, Osborne and legendary Husker players Johnny Rodgers and Dave Rimington.
Epley said he’s particularly proud of being associated with five national championship teams and working with three Heisman Trophy winners (Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch).
“No other strength coach has that kind of record,” Epley said.
Epley became a pioneer of sorts in early fall of 1969 when Devaney, at the suggestion of then-assistant coach Osborne, made Epley the nation’s first full-time college strength and conditioning coach in any sport. Nebraska had ended the 1968 season with a 6-4 record, including a 47-0 loss to rival Oklahoma on national television.
“Coach Osborne was looking for ways to gain an advantage and turn things around,” said Epley, a Husker pole vaulter at the time.
Nebraska finished 9-2 in 1969, including a 44-14 win against Oklahoma, before capturing the national crown in 1970.
In 1981, Devaney, who had become athletic director, allocated $205,000 to remodel a 13,300-square-foot area under the west stands at Memorial Stadium for a weight room. When completed that fall, it was the largest strength facility in the world, setting the standard throughout the nation.
“When you think of the world of athletics, there are not many people who can say they are true pioneers in their field,” Pederson said Monday. “Boyd took something and really made it into a heck of a profession. We certainly got an edge early on (in the 1970s) that others didn’t have in that our players lifted weights in a consistent, organized manner.”
Epley noted that 64 of his former Nebraska assistants have become strength and conditioning professionals, some in private practice and many working at storied programs such as Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, Ohio State, Southern Cal and even the New York Yankees.
Current Husker strength coach Dave Kennedy worked under Epley from 1982-88 before making stops at Ohio State and Pittsburgh.
In accepting his new position with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Epley rejoins an organization he founded in Lincoln in 1978 as a resource for strength coaches. The NSCA says it now has 33,000 members in 56 countries and features well-respected research journals, as well as several cutting-edge educational conferences.
Epley will begin his new job Aug. 1.
“We hate to lose him,” Pederson said. “At the same time, we realize this is a unique deal for Boyd.”
Epley said he leaves Nebraska with fond memories.
“I wish I could reach out and thank literally thousands of people who helped me and believed in me,” Epley said. “It’s been a tremendous experience.”
Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or email@example.com.