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Credit: Alec Druggan

After 20 years at Penn, Head Coach of Strength and Conditioning Jim Steel abruptly resigned from his position on Jan. 10. This marks the second departure from Penn Athletics this month after Senior Associate Athletic Director David Leach also parted ways with the department.

“Coach Steel resigned unexpectedly earlier this month," Penn Athletics wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Jim served Penn Athletics and its student-athletes admirably during his nearly 20 years in the Division, and we wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”

Jim Steel

Although the details are not clear, Steel wrote in a statement to the DP that his resignation was due to a philosophical dispute with the administration. 

“Exactly what happened is that the Sports Performance administration and I didn't see eye-to-eye on the best way to run the strength and conditioning program," he wrote. “I really love the athletes at Penn and will miss them.” 

On his blog, Bas’ Barbell, Steel published a lengthy post illustrating his feelings toward coaches and administrators. The more than 2,500-word post was published the morning of Jan. 14, four days after his resignation. The post includes several anecdotes in which Steel felt slighted by coaches and administrators he worked with, without naming any of them. Steel also recounted multiple instances of sexism from both coaches and administrators in his blog.

“The problem is that most coaches and administrators have such huge egos that they just can't help themselves," Steel wrote. “And god forbid if you are a big guy or have any muscle on your body. Then you are labeled as a meat head who trains all sports ‘like football players.'"

Steel was responsible for working with Penn football, volleyball, wrestling, and men’s and women’s lacrosse during his time with the Red and Blue, overseeing the training plans for more than 200 athletes every year.

“Penn Athletics has hired two additional strength and conditioning coaches in the past few months to assist with training our student-athletes. The Sports Performance Strategic Plan includes increasing the number of strength and conditioning coaches over the next several years, and increased staffing is a priority within that plan,” Kevin Bonner, associate AD for Administration and Strategic Communications, wrote in a statement to the DP.

“Penn Athletics has commenced a national search for the next head strength and conditioning coach. As one of our Centers of Excellence, our Sports Performance unit has a critical role in providing an unrivaled experience for our 1,000 student-athletes, and we will endeavor to find the best fit for that position. The goal is to have a new head [strength] coach in place later this semester.”

The Penn Athletics website and staff directory do not show any evidence of these two new hires.

Credit: Alec Druggan

George A. Weiss Pavilion

Steel suggested that the problems he faced are not unique to Penn, writing in his blog that “there are some issues that should [be] addressed when it comes to the profession." 

Those issues include increasing interference from administrators and coaches, and feeling overworked and underappreciated — with a schedule, he wrote, that had no off-season, “ridiculous hours," and what he characterized as “usually very low pay."

“Yeah, let me give up seeing my family to make 44,000 [dollars a year] as a head strength coach somewhere with 10 teams to coach and the football coach bringing you ideas that he saw on the Internet or written in the sky somewhere. And some bumbling administrator who lifted a weight back in 1982 and feels like that gives them all the expertise to tell you how to coach your athletes,” he wrote in his blog.

“The problem is, the best strength coaches that I know got so fed up with the meddling from the know-nothings (most coaches and administrators) that they got out of the college coaching and went into business for themselves." 

Steel’s departure means an already short-staffed strength and conditioning coaches' room will need a new leader. Penn Athletics will hire someone of its choosing to fill his role.

In an interview with the DP on Jan. 16, Associate Athletic Director for Sports Performance Andrea Wieland, Steel's direct supervisor, said that his departure was a “a huge opportunity to get someone new in here."

“The best thing about the whole profession is that the kids get it,” Steel concluded his post. “They get that you care for them and that you are trying to make them great. That's why you do it, for the kids. Funny thing is, in all the meetings … I never heard one of the administrators mention the athletes or what is best for the athletes. Who are we there for anyway?"

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