CHARLOTTE – When Joe Kenn learned his peers had voted him NFL Strength Coach of the Year, he was humbled.
"For me, it was, 'Wow, my peers recognized my work.' But your situation arises because of the people you work with," Kenn said. "Let’s face it, I work with the best. The talent is abundant. It’s our job to be as smart as possible to help those players succeed on Sundays.
"Success breeds success, and it’s nice to be personally recognized."
The Panthers had a lot of success in 2015, advancing all the way to Super Bowl 50 and finishing with a remarkable 17-2 record. Kenn’s work behind the scenes is a crucial element to Carolina’s powerful winning formula on both sides of the ball, and his peers took notice.
San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama will present Kenn with the award this week in Indianapolis. Uyeyama interned for Kenn when he became the strength coach at the University of Utah in 1999, and they’ve been close ever since.
"I’m very happy for him. I know his commitment to our field and his commitment to the players is second to none," Uyeyama said. "The quest for knowledge to continually evolve is very important to him. He’s very hungry, and he always has been. He thinks a little outside the box with some things, but he’s been very creative and successful at every level."
"The best thing about being the strength coach for the Panthers is Coach Rivera is a weight room guy," said Kenn, who joined the Panthers in 2011 and was named Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2014. "Coach knows the weight room, he knows the importance of it. He played on physically demanding teams with great defense and a strong running game.
"We’re not a finesse team, we’re not going to do finesse stuff. That includes the weight room. We squat, we pull, we press. I believe in big, structural exercises, and that fits into Coach Rivera’s philosophy of having a physically dominant team."
Considering the physical toll on the players’ bodies at the conclusion of the Super Bowl run, Kenn’s offseason plan will be a bit different this year.
"The guys need their rest now," Kenn said. "You have to factor in the three additional games and five additional weeks of practice. I understand that guys will start feeling the itch to get back in, but they can’t be afraid to start a little later. It’s up to us to come up with a creative plan and be aware of the guys who have played a lot of snaps."
And when the players eventually make their return to the weight room, they know the man they call "House" will be ready and waiting to start working.
"I come to work every day smiling," Kenn said. "Like really, I get to coach these guys? It’s the best thing ever. There’s a tremendous amount of pride working with these guys and being a Carolina Panther."