David Nucifora's time as the IRFU's performance director has not been universally acclaimed by Ireland fans but we are very intrigued by news today of the appointment of Nick Winkelman as the IRFU's new Head of Athletic Performance and Science. Winkelman is an American who worked for nine years with the Arizona-based high performance firm Exos. In appointing him, the IRFU is looking far beyond both Ireland and the world of rugby for expertise and excellence. They are looking to American football, and to a man who has worked with the likes of AJ Green, Odell Beckham, JJ Watt and Robert Griffin III. We've looked through Winkelman's social media footprint and here are some of the changes we think he is going to look to instill.
Speed. Speed. Speed.
One of Winkelman's key jobs at Exos was working with NFL prospects looking to cut their 40-yard dash time before the famous Combine. We all saw Aidan O'Shea running the 40 on The Toughest Trade. One of Winkelman's main jobs was finding ways to get his future NFL studs to cut milliseconds off their time. The speed displayed by NFL players in the Combine is ridiculous --- 285 pound men running 40 yards in less than 5 seconds.
This year, Winkelman worked with the likes of Notre Dame's' Will Fuller (who had the second fastest time of anyone) and Kolby Listenbee at the Combine.
Obviously these guys were already pretty quick, but the work that Winkelman does with these players before the Combine helps them shed the hundredths of a second that could make the difference between 20 or 30 draft places. Winkelman clearly understands the science of speed. Here he is on working with Odell Beckham and AJ Green:
A.J. was able to juggle and Odell could literally take a soccer ball – I’d watch him in training – and do some kind of movement with the ball like he was Pele. I asked him if he’d ever done that before and he said no. Even though they can’t articulate how they do it, their body awareness is ridiculous, and their ability to see a skill-set and apply it in their own way is incredible.
It'll be fascinating to see what he can teach the likes of Simon Zebo and Sean O'Brien, especially in this day and age where space on the rugby pitch is shrinking so much.
His thesis seems perfect for rugby
Winkelman has been clearly studying the effects of injury on speed. You couldn't have more apt preparation for the world of rugby coaching.
Winkelman is not just an American football guy - here he speaks about the methodology behind his performance philosophy and how that can be applied beyond the NFL.
Whatever your thoughts on leadershipspeak are, it's good to see that Winkelman is reading the right rugby books.
A small thing, but nice to Winkelman seems proud to be relocating.