New Missouri strength-and-conditioning coach Matt Herring spent the last year working with Ian Mahinmi, a 6-foot-11 center from France who lives in San Antonio.
Mahinmi spent two seasons with the Spurs before helping the Mavericks snag a championship in 2011, but maintained a home in San Antonio and worked with Herring during the summer.
Mahinmi spent the last two seasons with the Pacers, but continued to train under Herring and hired him as a private coach last summer.
Not being tied to a team allowed Herring, who worked with the Spurs from 2011-13, the freedom to speak at conferences in Greece and Boston while being at home more with his family.
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“It was a perfect situation in that year where I wasn’t working, I had the freedom to go and take advantage of some opportunities to speak at an international conference,” Herring said. “In the past, I’ve had work obligations.”
But Herring, who went to a Final Four with Oklahoma State as part of Eddie Sutton’s staff in 2004 and won back-to-back national championship with Billy Donovan’s Florida team in 2006 and 2007, had the itch to return to the college ranks.
Herring scratched that itch last month, agreeing to join first-year coach Kim Anderson’s staff. He also was kind enough to do a Q&A about his career and his new job with The Star:
Question: What made the Missouri job enticing?
Herring: “First and foremost, they’ve got a great athletic department. From top to bottom, from athletic director Mike Alden to Pat Ivey, the director of athletic performance, it’s just a really top-notch athletic department. Knowing that I’m going to get to be part of such a well-run, well-organized organization was a wonderful benefit.
“To get into the basketball side and get to work with coach Anderson and the staff that he’s put together and the group of guys that we have in place also had wonderful appeal. It really checked off all the boxes that I was looking for when I wanted to return to college.”
Q: Was stability, considering that coach Anderson was just hired and almost certainly will be around for several years, a factor in your decision?
Herring: “Stability is always appealing, but what really made it appealing is that this is going to be my first opportunity to really start from the ground floor of a program. When I got my first opportunity at Oklahoma State, it was a great established program and I came in and had to learn and find my niche. The same thing was true at the University of Florida.
“Coach Donovan had been there quite a while and had the success he did, so I had to come in and find my niche and find my role within a culture that had already been established. One thing that was very appealing to me and very unique, it’s going to be a neat challenge, was that we get to come in and start from the ground floor, establishing coach Anderson’s style of play and the culture he wants to create here.”
Q: What are some of the differences you’ve noticed from college basketball versus the NBA?
Herring: “The number of games really changes up the two areas. In college, the most you play is 40, and that’s if you’re fortunate enough to go the championship. In the NBA, you’ve played 40 games by Christmas. That is a big difference. … You’re also dealing with older athletes, who have different needs and a different training style. But the culture of winning and doing things right, understanding the process that it takes to be successful, was very similar.”
Q: What made you want to return to the college ranks?
Herring: “My philosophy is definitely geared more toward training the college athletes than professional athletes. I really enjoy the development side of it. With the sheer number of games at the pro level, it’s difficult. It’s different. I really enjoy the chance to actually build the athletes and have a large impact on their physical development.
“When they’re young and college-aged, you have that opportunity. At the professional level, it’s not that those guys aren’t willing to work … you’re just playing so much and there’s so much need for recovery to keep those guys healthy throughout such a long season. The physical development side just isn’t there, but that’s what was really fulfilling to me.
“I had a wonderful experience with the NBA — a great, great time with a great organization, where I got to learn a lot and meet some tremendous people — but my true heart and passion and fulfillment is at the college level.”
Q: What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?
Herring: “I hope the best is yet to come. Coach Donovan, one of the things he taught me — and I carry this with me every day — is that the past is in the past. You’ve got to live in the present. That stuff’s (two NCAA championships with the Gators and an NBA Finals appearance with the Spurs) written in the history books.
“It’s done. I enjoyed it at the time, but the rings are in a box somewhere in my dresser drawer. They’ll come out if someone wants to see them, but that’s in the past. You can’t live in the past and live thinking about regrets from the past or successes.”
Q: When will your family join you in Columbia?
Herring: “Later on in the summer, once we get our housing situation settled in San Antonio and once we get our housing situation settled here, they’ll come up and be part of this Missouri family. But they’re excited about it. My daughter (Lacey) has already gone shopping for her black and gold. They’re excited to be part of a great college community again.”
Q: Did you know coach Anderson before he hired you?
Herring: “My connection was actually with the former strength coach here (Todor Pandov). We both come from the same family tree of working under Todd Wright at the University of Texas. We’re both nuts off the same tree, so when this opportunity opened up it was Todor’s relationship with Tim Fuller that enabled me to start communication there. It’s an amazingly small world when you break it down.”
Q: What about Pat Ivey? Did you know him before accepting the Missouri job?
Herring: “That was a huge, huge plus for me. Coach Ivey is one of the best, not only football strength coaches, but one of the best directors. That’s a great title, because he is leading this whole athletic performance side. The big appeal to me was to get to work with another great strength coach like Pat Ivey.
“I had the great honor of getting to work with Mickey Marotti, who is at Ohio State now, when he was the director of athletic performance at Florida. Sometimes, you get pigeon-holed as a basketball-only guy and kind of live on an island at the basketball facility. But for me, it’s always been great to get to learn and be mentored by guys who work in a completely different environment. I’m thrilled to get to be part of this staff.”