» News

Got a Minute?

February 7, 2017 11:53 AM

Toby Smith talks to former Lobo tennis player Brent Salazar, now an NFL coach

serving_at_UNMBrent Salazar was a member of the UNM men’s team from 1998-2003.  He generally played No. 5 or No. 6 singles. He and Ryan Stotland were No. 1 doubles for most of those years. Salazar graduated from UNM with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.  Since then he has worked at several colleges helping student-athletes with strength and conditioning.  He also came to the aid of a top American tennis player and spent nine years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.  In February 2016, Salazar, 36,  became the head strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Vikings

How did you happen to come to UNM?

I was a senior at Overland High School, in Aurora, Colorado.  I ended up taking second in the state singles my senior year. I was recruited by other schools but toward the end of the process, I knew New Mexico was where I wanted to go. (Photo Courtesy of UNM)

Did Alan Dils recruit you?

Yes, but Loren was the main guy. I got to know Loren pretty well. He was there and we developed a good relationship. You can’t find better people than those two.

The Dils brothers both call you “Saladbar.”  What’s that about? 

[Laughs.]  I’ve had that nickname for as long as I can remember.  My dad had it too. Everbody from high school and from New Mexico still calls me that.  Nobody on the Vikings does.

Did you major in physical therapy?

I thought I was going to go that route. But when I redshirted my second year I spent some time in the UNM weight room. That caught my attention.  Mark Paulsen was there and he allowed me to hang around and follow him.  When I wasn’t going to class, I was there. I had done some p.t. internships in high school and I enjoyed those experiences. But I couldn’t see myself doing that as a career.  I ended up going into exercise physiology.  I think they now call it exercise science. In my last year at UNM, I had a strength and conditioning internship.  That’s when I realized what I wanted to do.  I was the strength coach for Lobo men’s tennis, and I assisted in football, golf and baseball.

Did you go back to playing tennis after that?  

In my senior year, Ryan Stotland and I went to the NCAA’s in Athens, Georgia.  We lost in the first round.  I felt we should have done better, but it was a great opportunity.  Ryan is now the coach of the Fresno State women’s team. He’s done really well there.   

What did you do after graduation? 

I went back to Denver and I eventually obtained a strength and conditioning internship with the Denver Broncos. That led to another internship, this time at UNLV. There I worked with tennis and soccer programs.  In 2006, I was appointed assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. 

Sounds as if you found your niche.  

I did. My time at Pacific led to a job with the Kansas City Chiefs.

You were with the Chiefs a long time, weren’t you?

For nine years I was an assistant strength and conditioning coach. In 2014, I got a call from the USTA.  They wondered if I might work with Jack Sock, who lived in the Kansas City area.  Jack already had done very well on the men’s tour. He had a hip injury and that was a concern.  I worked with Jack for three months or so.   

Brent_Salazar_mugHow did the Vikings hear about you?  

I was contacted through one of the team’s assistants in Minneapolis. He had been with the Chiefs with me.  I was lucky enough to get the job.  I started working for the Vikings in February 2016. (Photo Courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)   

The Vikings did well to start off this past season, didn’t they?

We did. We were 5-0.  (The team finished 8-8).

How do you like living in Minnesota? 

It’s kind of like Colorado. minus the mountains.  A lot of outdoor living.  

Tell me about your family.                                                                     PHOTO: Courtesy of MINNESOTA VIKINGS

I met my wife Kendra when I was in Kansas City.  She was an athlete in high school.  She played softball, volleyball and basketball.  We have two young children, Ella and Ty. 

Do you play much tennis these days?

Ever since I’ve been in the league I’ve had no time for tennis.   I do get out and hit the ball around with Kendra a little bit. But the last time I played competitively was when I was at Pacific.  I would hit on occasion with team members there and at UNLV.

Do you watch much tennis on television?

I try to when I can. I saw some of the Australian Open last month.  I try to watch Jack play. I’ll  check in with him now and then.  I still talk to his coach, Mark Hahn, to see how they’re doing and what  tournament he’s going to be in. I’ll probably watch him in the Davis Cup this month.

The strength and conditioning coaches I’ve seen are usually pretty large in size. I recall Mark Paulsen being built like a bulldozer.  Are you that way? 

I probably don’t look like I used to at UNM. In fact, when people see me now for the first time, they’re often surprised I come from a tennis background.  I do a lot of lifting.  I weigh 205 to 210 pounds.  I live in the weight room, so I’ve got to practice what I preach.

If you know someone who might be a good candidate for the Got a Minute column, contact tobysmith68gmail.com and tell him.