This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of MemphiSport.
He’s been called crazy, eccentric, mysterious, enigmatic. In front of the camera he dons a mask worthy of a pro wrestler. He’s trained professional athletes like NBA Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, actresses, and expectant mothers. He’s spent countless hours running people through the gamut of secretive, rigid workouts running through the hills in San Francisco. But now he’s the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Memphis Tigers basketball program. MemphiSport got a chance to talk to Frank Matrisiciano, a.k.a. Hell’s Trainer and find out a little about the man behind the mask.
On the passion of Tiger basketball fans:
I’ve been to just about every place in the country you’d say was a major program, and this is right up there with all of them. The place is kind of special. The fans, sometimes to me, they go a little overboard on certain things that I think are trivial, but it’s an excellent place to see a game, and the fans are definitely passionate.
I read the message boards once. The things I saw; it wasn’t bothering me. It was that they were talking about coach. And he is really doing something special here. I want people to understand that, and he’s doing it the right way. There are things that people don’t see he does behind the scenes, and they’re not going to see it because of the closed practice. All the coaches, Coach Murphy, Coach Stoudemire, Coach Williams coming in, Coach Dunn does a great job behind the scenes. Coach Sebastian. All the things I read… oh he’s doesn’t address this, he doesn’t address that. Well they do. They do it every day. Eventually the players have to take responsibility and be men and do what’s asked of them. That gets lost to me in the translation of what they’re teaching. But they’re getting it. It’s a process. What I’ve seen with the fans here, you want them to be passionate, but you lose a game and they panic. But you’d rather lose a game in November than lose it in March. And that’s the whole thing here. We’re gearing this for March. We’re gearing this for the NCAA tourmament. You’ve seen programs where they don’t play anybody in the beginning, they have great records and then get knocked out right away. We want a deep run for the tournament. That’s what we’re doing. That’s our goal.
On the mask:
I’ve gotten this out there many times. It all started in San Francisco in sand and wind where it gets in your eyes and your nose, so I’d wear the mask for training. Then from there, there have been certain players that want their privacy. Before I came here I trained high school and college kids. High end players. I wanted to avoid street agents and agents. People have heard about me for a long time. Heard of me… but they never saw my face. So that was my way of avoiding all the street agents saying, “Frank… hey Frank. This guy wants to have dinner with you.” I don’t deal with all that. This was just an easy way to avoid it. So I can actually be standing next to people who are so-called friends of players, and I hear all this crap, and they didn’t know who I was. And they still don’t. I mean there was one thing that happened here that was unfortunate. But just let me do my thing. I talk to everybody; I’m friendly with everybody. I don’t hide. I don’t wear a mask outside. Just don’t take a picture of me and then put it in the paper… or on the news.
On why he took the job at Memphis:
Coach Murphy. Well both of them… Coach Murphy and Coach Pastner. They’ve been friends of mine for a long time and it was just something where they said, “Come on in.” I had said no about four times, and they said, “Well just come on in,” and I came in and everyone, I mean everyone, was just really really, ya know… just nice. They were very enthusiastic about it, and then Josh just letting me do what I need to do to be myself. And again, we’re close friends, but I separate it. He deserves the respect as does Coach Stoudemire, Coach Murphy. Anyone here, that’s who they are when I’m here (the Finch Center). It’s not Josh or Jack; it’s Coach Pastner and Coach Murphy. Now when we leave here, we’re friends again. I do a good job of separating that. They’ve earned that respect because of where they are. So I’m in here to do a job. I’m going to get these guys in the best possible shape. The best shape they’ve ever been in, and I feel I’m doing that right now. I’ve turned down many things before but they’re friendship is really what drew me here, and once I got here, I said, you know what? He’s actually doing something special here and I want to be a part of that.
On the nickname “Hell’s Trainer” and how hard he’s worked this team:
Anyone that does my training… I don’t want to sound arrogant, but there’s nothing like this. It’s not me saying that, it’s from everyone who’s done it. That’s from guys who have gone to me and lasted eleven minutes and left. That’s from guys that come for two days and leave. People around here, Zach Randolph just started a little while ago, and he was here all summer. Earl Barron, Jeremy Hunt, those guys were all blown away. They said, damn, we’ve been training with over eleven different guys here or there and they’ve never done this before. And I get that from everybody, so these guys will be no different. When I got here it was the same thing, but they’ve adapted and they’ve gotten stronger and stronger. It’s a process; they’re nowhere near where I want them to be but we’re in tremendous shape right now. It’s just my level is… again, I don’t believe in no pain no gain. I believe in gradual building process, and we’re in stages. You go from prophase to phase one. You don’t just go up without getting that foundation strong.
On the issue of obesity being so present in the south:
If I knew everyone was going to follow my advice, first of all, I would without a doubt change nutrition. That’s the key. My range goes from training pregnant women to women for the Oscars to triathletes, boxers, whatever. So it’s not just athletes. You can have foods that you’re used to, I’d just take some of the ingredients out to make it a little healthier. And in moderation; don’t eat so much. And start exercising. It’s not rocket science. Expend more energy and calories than you take in.
On people who have made New Year’s resolutions to get in shape should do:
I’d start out with a walk. You have to find something you can actually do and then gradually build your way up. If I told you that jumping rope was the best exercise you could do and you couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t help you. I’d have them do push-ups. Have them do pull-ups. Walk up and down stairs. If someone was going to have a heart attack, the first thing the doctor would tell him is don’t walk up and down stairs. Then as your heart gets stronger, you can walk up and down stairs.
On sticking with a workout regimen:
Sometimes people have the wrong mentality, and a lot of trainers have this. I train trainers. And I don’t believe in no pain, no gain. What good is it if you train someone and they can’t walk? What good is it? You tear them down, their muscle fibers are inflamed, then the next day it’s even worse. Then of course they’re not going to want to go anymore. It has to be gradual. You start out with ten minutes, then you build up to fifteen minutes. Then people stay with it.
On whether he sees the success of the team as a reflection upon him:
The fitness is going to be there. Like I tell guys, I will get them in the best shape of their lives. Ever, that they’ve ever been in, and that’s just reality. But neither I nor the coaches can make that jump shot. We can’t be on the court. My thing is, I don’t even see some of the guys play. My job is to get them physically ready to go and still work on their mental toughness. But that’s a process. The mental part is harder than the physical. And it’s a process that you have to keep up every day. And guys are getting it. They still have their moments, but they get it. And I have to keep on them. And that I take pride in, the mental part. Physical is easy. It’s like if you have a Lamborghini in your garage… beautiful. And you wash it and clean it and wax it. Then you lose the keys. Well, what good is it? It’s going to sit there. The mind is the key to the body. So I tell guys, we’re going to get through the training. But even the training gets mentally tough because to do it you have to have that mental discipline, and that’s what they’re building. So do I have pride in them? Yes. But if we lose a game, am I saying, “Oh my God, they didn’t do this the other day?” No. Again this is where the responsibility has to go onto a player and his actions while the game is going on.
On wanting to be referred to as “life changer”:
Hey, I’ll change that in a second. But let me say this. First of all when my friends introduce me to people they say, this is Frank, he’s not a trainer, he’s not a life coach. He’s just Frank. I tell people that’s it. This is who I am. There’s no phoniness, it’s who I am. Not what I do but who I am. I’ve always lived my life this way. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs; I don’t’ smoke. And no one’s going to train harder than me. The guys I train know they’ll never do more than me. I lead by example always. So if players send me e-mails, letters, talk to me, saying “Dude. You’ve changed my life.” I get letters from parents saying, “You’ve changed all our lives.” I get that all the time, and I’m proud of that. I don’t run away from it. But I’m not being arrogant. If that’s what it is, then what do you call that person?
On the one piece of advice he would give everyone:
Treat people the way you want to be treated. If you want to be treated with respect, respect other people
Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.
-Photos by Justin Ford