TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced the hiring of David Ballou as the Crimson Tide’s Director of Sports Performance and Dr. Matt Rhea as the Director of Performance Science on Tuesday.
“Just as with any other area, we feel that it is imperative that we adopt and integrate advancements in the field of strength and conditioning that will provide elite training, while better protecting our players from injuries and helping them develop and perform at a higher level,” Saban said. “Our program has been working toward these type of advancements with the development and construction of our own sports science center, and with the addition of David and Matt, we believe our student-athletes will be better equipped to reach their goals for many years to come.”
Ballou and Dr. Rhea, who are both regarded among the best in their field, join the Alabama program after two years at Indiana where Ballou was the Director of Athletic Performance and Rhea was IU’s Football’s High Performance Coordinator.
During Ballou’s two seasons as the Director of Athletic Performance, 11 Hoosiers earned All-Big Ten honors while the team’s eight wins in 2019 were the most for the program since 1993. He helped four IU standouts move on to the NFL and has trained 31 NFL Draft picks in his career.
Before his time at Indiana, Dr. Rhea was the director of sport science at IMG Academy in 2016 and 2017. There, he contributed to the optimal development of athletes through innovative assessments and advanced strength and conditioning.
“The collaboration between strength and conditioning, sports medicine and nutrition are absolutely critical for the success of our program,” Alabama’s Associate AD and Director of Sports Medicine Jeff Allen said. “The addition of Coach Ballou and Dr. Rhea to our program will allow us to take full advantage of our sports science center. The data they will generate on our athletes, through their unique training methods, will allow us to know exactly how to manage our team to ensure we are performing at our best each Saturday and make sure we are doing all we can to prevent injuries.”
Ballou spent the 2017 season as Notre Dame’s co-director of football strength and conditioning after one year as the head strength and conditioning coach at IMG Academy. At IMG, he helped train 26 future NFL Draft picks in 2016 and 2017. Prior to IMG, he served as the head strength and conditioning coach at Avon (Ind.) High School for 14 years (2001-15) where he was a finalist for the 2014 NSCA National High School Strength Coach of the Year Award. He has held the credential as a certified strength and conditioning specialist (with distinction) since 2001.
“Player development is my passion” Ballou said. “We can’t wait to get to Tuscaloosa and begin working with some of the best athletes and football players in the nation. We will attack all avenues of performance to make sure we are optimizing the physical abilities of every player on the roster.”
Dr. Rhea was a full-time professor of kinesiology at A.T. Still University, where he taught courses in sports conditioning and exercise physiology. He has published nearly 100 studies in performance enhancement and lectured in seven different countries. He received a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Southern Utah in 1998, a master’s in exercise science and physical education from Arizona State in 2001 and a master’s in sports management from American Public University in 2016. He earned his doctorate in philosophy at Arizona State in 2004 with an exercise and sport science academic focus and an athletic performance enhancement research focus.
“For the past 22 years, I have been studying how best to develop athletes, prevent injuries and prime for competition,” Rhea said. “Through research, I have found some innovative ways to target neuromuscular issues that are limiting performance and, by teaming up with one of best strength and conditioning coaches in the world, we can target those limiting factors during training.
“Everyone works hard in football these days, and our system involves a lot of hard work, but not just for the sake of causing pain and suffering. It involves hard work because getting improvements in very elite athletes is very challenging. We are combining hard work with very scientific methods in order to maximize development and preparation.”
Along with getting the Crimson Tide, bigger, faster and stronger, injury prevention will be a key focus for Ballou and Dr. Rhea and the Crimson Tide’s new sports science center will give them advantages not seen in college athletics. The sports science center, which will open this summer, will be a comprehensive facility that will feature assessment areas for all athletes, physical-evaluation areas, a behavioral health center, two athlete-recovery rooms that feature 15 specialized recovery chairs, three float beds and a multi-person, whole-body cryo chamber.
“The addition of Coach Ballou and Dr. Rhea shows the unsurpassed dedication to the student-athlete at The University of Alabama,” Andrews Sports Medicine Center orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain said. “Their ability to develop football players while working in conjunction with athletic training and nutrition to help prevent injuries will be vital to the program’s success. With all these factors in place, Alabama will possess a one-of-a-kind program, not only in college, but in the NFL as well, that will focus on protecting its players and helping them reach their full potential.”
Ballou, who played fullback for the Hoosiers from 1997-99, graduated in 2001 from Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and earned his master’s degree in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009. He is married to the former Leah Horn, who was a pole vaulter at Indiana and a two-time Academic All-Big Ten. The couple has two daughters, Mallory and Aubrey.
Dr. Rhea played college football for three years at UNLV and Southern Utah before entering the strength and conditioning field. In 2001, he launched a consulting company that provided direction in areas of athlete development, speed training, injury prevention and performance optimization to clients in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, International Olympic programs and top collegiate athletic departments