PALO ALTO, Calif. —
Shannon Turley isn’t a football coach. He calls himself “a no-talent hillbilly” from West Virginia. He has an average build and the no-nonsense mien of a cop.
Yet, to a man, Stanford’s coaches and players say he has been one of the keys in getting them to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Stanford’s secret weapon is its 36-year-old strength and conditioning coach, who is from Bluefield. He was named the best in the nation this year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
“We spend triple the time with our strength coaches as we do with our actual coaches year-round,” linebacker Shayne Skov said.
“He’s as fundamental to our mind-set as our coaches are, and that doesn’t even speak to the physical aspect of things. He’s instrumental in how we prepare.”
Head coach David Shaw gives Turley the lion’s share of the credit for the low number of serious injuries the team has endured in recent years.
“We don’t have a lot of pulled muscles or torn muscles,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of issues that other places have. That’s because of Shannon Turley’s program.”
This season, the Cardinal lost defensive end Ben Gardner to a pectoral tear at midseason, end Henry Anderson with a knee injury for six games and kicker Jordan Williamson with a leg injury for a few games; otherwise, the first- and second-team players have survived almost unscathed.
From 2006 to ’12, injuries to players on the two-deep depth chart dropped by 87 percent. Since Turley came on board, Stanford has enjoyed a remarkably clean injury slate.
“He’s an expert on how the body works,” Shaw said. “He makes sure muscles are long and lean and relaxed, as opposed to compact, tight and powerful.”
Unlike many strength coaches, Turley doesn’t focus on having players lift record amounts of weight.
He credits former coach Jim Harbaugh and his successor, Shaw, with “not being preoccupied with numbers — how much a guy squats or power-cleans, how many reps he can do (on the bench press) at 225.”
Turley focuses on lifting with a precisely correct technique. Forget about the standard expectations of how much weight and how many repetitions players can perform, he says. “My guys are never going to live up to those numbers because of our priority on safety and technique,” he said.
Routines are tailored by position. Turley uses yoga and Pilates as well as the weight room. Proper nutrition is stressed. Turley plans all meals for the training table, as well as travel and game days.
When freshman football players arrive on campus early in the summer, they don’t just go through a physical exam. They are subjected to a thorough screening process to find and correct flaws they have developed in training for, in most cases, multiple sports.
For instance, half of the players from the 2012 freshman class — one of the best in school history — were in physical therapy six weeks before they got on the practice field.
Turley grew up in Bluefield, where he was a zealous but less talented football player. He studied conditioning at Virginia Tech, then spent a summer with a minor-league baseball team in Wichita, Kan., before working on the University of Missouri conditioning staff for five years.
“He’s like a graduate school professor,” Shaw said. “If you walk into his class, you’d better be ready to learn. If you’re not ready to learn, he’s going to beat you over the head until you get it. And then once you get it, you become his biggest cheerleader.”
When players are rehabbing from injuries, their experiences with Turley can be uncomfortable.
“He pushed me harder than anybody I work with,” Skov said of his recovery from major knee surgery in 2011. “At times, we had our arguments. But I wouldn’t be back to where I am now without him.”
Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.