Whether his “laboratory” was in Sartain Hall, the Tine Davis Fieldhouse or the Veterans Memorial Stadium towers, Richard Shaughnessy was at his best in the weight room.
“The players have gotten better under Richard. I think that’s evidenced by the success of not only our college players but those in the NFL,” former Troy head football coach Larry Blakeney said of the Troy strength and conditioning director. “All of them would attribute strength and conditioning to their survival in the game. (Shaughnessy) was a pretty good mad scientist.”
Shaughnessy, a Dothan native, has taken a unique path to success – becoming the first individual inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame based almost solely on his contributions to strength and conditioning.
Shaughnessy said he is proud to receive the honor since it really recognizes how much time his mother, Rae Shaughnessy, invested in her sons’ athletic pursuits.
“For her to be able to see this is big for me. She sat in the ballparks and the stadiums for 18 years to watch my brothers and myself,” he said.
Shaughnessy said his love for the weight room developed at an early age.
“When I got to high school, coach (Harry Wayne) Parrish wouldn’t even let you in the weight room unless you were playing a sport, so I got involved in that,” he said. “The weight room just always fascinated me.”
As a youngster, Shaughnessy wanted to work out but had no money for gym dues. Jim Getto of Bodyworks Gym on Foster Street allowed the young teen to perform chores like sweeping and opening the gym to pay off what he owed.
Shaughnessy’s love of strength and conditioning continued in college when Shaughnessy began to follow the careers of Bill Kazmaier and other “Strongest Man” competitors.
“I got to lifting weights, and it just became my life,” Shaughnessy said. “I got really interested in performance, and it became what I do.”
After graduating from Auburn, Shaughnessy worked at a gym for a short time before Parrish and Mike Phares encouraged him to return to Dothan to coach football at Girard Middle School and Northview High.
Parrish retired from the Alabama education system in 1991 and began coaching just across the Georgia state line with the Early County Bobcats. Shaughnessy joined Parrish in Blakely for six years as a strength coach.
It was during his stint at Early County that Blakeney noticed Shaughnessy’s work. Blakeney eventually asked Shaughnessy if he wanted to become Troy’s first strength and conditioning coach.
Early County’s superintendent Rick Hall encouraged Shaughnessy to take the offer.
“He said, ‘You can’t get to the University of Tennessee or Green Bay Packers or the Dallas Cowboys from Early County, Ga.,’” Shaughnessy said. “He said, ‘You’re bigger than this place.’”
Shaughnessy left for Troy, and coincidentally joined his brother Leonard, who had earned a football scholarship to the university.
Blakeney said the Troy athletics program “probably overloaded” Shaughnessy, but he always managed to produce top athletes with the help of several graduate assistants. Shaughnessy often worked with both women’s and other men’s sports in addition to football.
Troy had wild success in football for several years, and Blakeney said Shaughnessy deserved some of the credit. Several NFL players like Osi Umenyiora, Demarcus Ware and Mario Addison played collegiately at Troy, and many of those pros still talk to Shaughnessy to this day.
Shaughnessy said relationships with players paved the way for his success.
“I still talk to Demarcus. I still talk to Osi. I still talk to Leodis (McKelvin), and it’s not about football,” he said. “Mario Addison (of the Carolina Panthers) said, ‘I want to invite you to a game. Bring your wife. It’s on me.’
“I really think the kids trust me and what I’m trying to get them to do. If a kid believes in what you tell them, it’s a situation where if they think they can (do something), they will.”
That trust matters when players’ careers and livelihoods depend on how much they can get out of their bodies without causing injury.
“You do have to pay attention to that. Nutrition has become a large part of that – how they eat, how they rest,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s really even bigger than touching the weights and the practicing. We really try to make sure we find the ideal body weights. I’m talking about football, but that’s also (in) your women’s sports, your baseball.
“You try to get them to meet their potential. We sit down and try to figure out what this kid’s potential is, where we should go with it.”
Shaughnessy has earned several certifications, including the honor of “Master Strength Coach” as awarded by the College of Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. It is the industry’s top honor.
Still, Shaughnessy remains at Troy two decades after he answered Blakeney’s call. The strength coach said he always felt Troy was the best place for him.
“I’ve had opportunities to leave, but it just felt like home. Something just kept me there, kept me attracted to it,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to be at Troy with coach Blakeney being there that long, and he let me have it. He let me do what I needed to do and let me run that part of the program.”