CHARLOTTE – Panthers strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn understands that some players view time in the weight room as a necessary evil.
So Kenn does what's necessary to keep players happy and healthy, a winning approach that has earned him the honor of being named the first Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.
"We've got to remember that the players' number-one mission is football, so no matter how much I love weights, it's never first for these guys, and it shouldn't be," Kenn said. "These guys lift because they have to, not because they want to. We have to give them a reason why it benefits them.
"We're going to make this a place where we get after it. We're not going to be in here very long, but we're going to be extremely productive."
Kenn, who won the collegiate version of the National Strength and Conditioning Association award at Arizona State in 2003, beat out Bill Foran of the Miami Heat and Matt Krause of the Cincinnati Reds for the inaugural pro award.
Kenn, a former Wake Forest football player who spent nearly 20 years as a strength coach on the collegiate level before joining the Panthers in 2011, said he's been flattered by the response to his latest recognition.
"Individual awards, they're really nice. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I wasn't really excited," he said. "But I've got a lot of my former assistants throwing me shout-outs, and I'm typing back, 'You're a part of this.' We're all a part of this."
While Kenn thanked Panthers assistant strength and conditioning coach Jason Benguche and intern Brett Nenaber for their contributions to his program's success, Panthers players and coaches are thankful to have Kenn at their disposal.
"He's done a ton for me," said tight end Greg Olsen, who spent last offseason in Charlotte getting the strongest and possibly the fastest he's ever been. "He has the perfect mix of the college approach where you're going to lift to make strength gains and functional movement gains, along with understanding that this is the NFL.
"The length of the season, the burden on some of these guys, the different age groups and body types – he has a really good understanding of what it takes. His knowledge is obviously good, but his people interactions and the way he runs the weight room and the respect he has from the players is why it works so well."
Both Olsen and head coach Ron Rivera also lauded how Kenn and the Panthers' athletic training staff headed by Ryan Vermillion work together to make sure injured players are in the best condition possible come game day.
"I appreciate his rapport with Ryan in terms of rehabbing players. Our guys talk about coming back in better shape and conditioning than they've ever been," Rivera said. "The number of injuries that we've had has been down, and Joe has also been important in the physical development of our young players."
Kenn takes a holistic approach to strength training, but one of his strengths is tailoring plans that fit individuals. His foundation is formed by three Ps: preparation, protection and production.
"We build a plan that puts things in place that are going to protect their body armor, and that will help produce the results that are desired," Kenn said. "We do have a structure and standards when we're developing our plans, but because of how we do things, it's very easy for us to plug in different specifics for each guy's uniqueness.
"It's our way. We believe in it, and our guys believe in it. And when belief is high, it's going to work."