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Rich Wenner: A Quiet -- But Appreciated -- Sun Devil

Oct 29, 2020
James Harden. Pat Tillman. Briann January. Sun Devil Rich Wenner has made a big impact on all of them and many more.

AZ Strength-Athlete Hall of Fame | Labor Day List: ASU Alumni in Sun Devil Athletics

(NOTE: Sun Devil alumnus and current sports performance coach Rich Wenner is an inaugural Arizona Strength-Athlete Hall of Fame inductee. The Hall of Fame was created to document the extraordinary feats accomplished by strength-athletes in this state. Arizona has had an incredible history in all strength-athlete sports and these high-achievers at the professional/Olympic/world/national level have been honored first. Tim McClellan -- a former ASU strength coach in the 1990s -- is is the historian and founder of the Hall of Fame.)

by Sean Murphy, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Sports Journalism, Class of 2021

Everybody hears about the head coaches that lead great athletic programs who produce championship teams and professional athletes.

More recently thanks to social media and some personal marketing, people started hearing about the strength and conditioning coaches that are behind some of these programs.
But it still seems that some of these coaches are not getting credit for what they contribute to entire athletic programs at top universities. Sometimes, it is because they don't want it -- and don't need it. Like someone special at Arizona State.

Arizona State University has one of the very best in the business in its own Rich Wenner.


He started powerlifting in high school hopiong to make a career out of it. What a career it would turn out to be, as Wenner would win his first national title at the United States Powerlifting Federation (USPF) Teenage Nationals in the summer of 1981 before going on to capture well over a dozen powerlifting national titles at every level; teenage, collegiate, open and masters.
Wenner even captured a world title in the 198-pound weight class at the 1986 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Juniors Powerlifting Championships.
While his resume as an athlete is quite impressive and certainly comprehensive, Rich Wenner just might have made a bigger impact on the coaching side of things thus far, helping hundreds of star athletes from virtually every sport and touching countless lives of college student-athletes.
After spending his senior year at Arizona State University and graduating in 1986 with a BS in Physical Education, Wenner started helping out in the weight room at ASU. A full-time position as an assistant strength coach opened up in 1987 and Rich was fortunate enough to get the job.
He would work alongside the great Tim McClellan, a man he met in 1982 while they were both competing in powerlifting in Pennsylvania. McClellan was also responsible for creating the strength and conditioning program at ASU in the early 1980's.
McClellan was Wenner's coach as a powerlifter and above all else, his mentor, teaching him how to be a great powerlifter and an even better person. Wenner said that McClellan was the type of guy to allow you to do your own thing and let you learn through your mistakes, but while also being there to guide you and give you advice when you were willing to listen.
McClellan would remain the head strength and conditioning coach at Arizona State until moving on in 1995. Wenner took over his job that year and was named Pac-10 Strength Coach of the Year in 1996. He would go on to become the head sports performance coach in 2003, a title he currently holds.
Wenner has had the opportunity to coach an abundance of athletes who have gone on to enjoy successful careers as professionals in their respective sports, such as NBA star James Harden, WNBA standout Briann January (below), former MLB outfielder Andre Ethier and former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer.


Wenner credits his blue-collar, farming background with much of his success and how he has learned to carry himself, such as working with people, working hard and being consistent. He understands that the student-athletes and coaches at ASU rely on him, but he stresses that what he does is simply a small piece of the pie and the athletes are the ones who possess the talent and are putting in the work.
He has always been one to stay behind the scenes and never take any of the credit away from the athletes or other coaches. It seems that so many strength coaches today are all over sports media for pulling attention-grabbing stunts and being sort of hype men.
"I just think Rich Wenner's focus is on giving his athletes a good service and serving them to the best of his ability, not being a glorified cheerleader with a towel," Tim McClellan said.
Anybody who has worked with or been coached by Wenner and been passionate about what they do would likely speak very highly of his professionalism as well as the great deal of humility he displays despite being an extremely successful athlete and coach. Many would also stress just how much he means to the athletes he gets to work with. Wenner is a man who inspires, influences and motivates.
One of those athletes is former ASU, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos starting quarterback Jake Plummer, who led the Sun Devils to an 11-1 season and a Pac-10 Championship in 1996.
"I think he's one that doesn't want attention, which is the beautiful thing about him," Plummer said of Wenner's coaching style. "He doesn't really want to be in front and have everybody tell him how great he is because what he does, he does it selflessly and he does it for the athletes. He's a huge piece of ASU with sports and the athletes that have come out of there. He's really touched a lot of people in a lot of ways to help them become the best they can be."
Plummer understands that not every athlete has the privilege to work with somebody as professional and considerate as Rich Wenner and he really appreciates the time that he got to work with him. Plummer said that Rich is one of the people he always makes sure to connect with when he is back in town.
Plummer talked about how Wenner was not just about the weight room, but also about the track and agility and teaching football players how to fall. Wenner is a true student of sports and is continuously trying to broaden his knowledge base as sports evolve. He knows how to teach athletes to get the most out of their bodies and he understands what it takes to motivate them to get there.
"If you have a dream to be something big, he wants to help you get there and facilitate that. That shows his compassion," Plummer said. "I always enjoyed his smile and his ability to just feel good when you came in there and also to motivate us to get through the tough days when you had to. He was a great friend and a person you could lean on…Anybody who wanted to be something appreciates what he did for us."
One of the big things that helps make Wenner such a successful strength coach is who he is as a human being. People who have worked alongside him, such as ASU Women's Basketball Head Coach Charli Turner Thorne, talk about what an amazing and authentic person he is. You get the feeling from people who have known him for decades that he is truly as good of a person and a friend as he is an athlete and a coach.
"The thing that makes him so effective and such an amazing strength coach is who he is," Coach Turner Thorne said. "He's a very genuine person. He's one of the most genuine people you will ever know in your entire life; he's disciplined, he will never swear, he's always mindful about what he says. He always speaks the truth. He just cares."
But Rich doesn't just care about the success of the student-athletes in an athletic sense; he has genuine regard for what they are doing in life and the direction they are moving. The most important thing to Rich about the people he gets to coach and mentor is what they are accomplishing off the field.
"The real joy of what we do for the most part if you're in long enough is seeing these kids come in as 17, 18-year-old freshmen first time away from home and then leaving as 21, 22-year-old adults ready to contribute to society," Wenner said. "I think in the big picture it's just seeing them grow and develop as people."
It is amazing what Rich has been able to do for athletes in each and every sport at ASU. Turner Thorne talked about how he writes out a personalized program for each player on her basketball team, which accounts for who is more prone to certain injuries and who needs better nutrition.
This type of personal and detailed attention is quite exceptional when you consider the fact that Arizona State has over 600 student-athletes and Wenner works with nearly all of them. That is a level of dedication and caring about people and their success that is very difficult to come by in today's day and age.
Rich has a winning attitude and cares as much as anybody about his job and the people he serves and it truly shows. Rich has been as successful as he has for good reason.

"He always stressed to us the importance of our attitude," former ASU gymnast and Sun Devil Hall of Famer Maggie Ethier said. "He exemplified every day how his positive and uplifting attitude can create a more productive work environment. I wanted to give my all for Rich every day because I knew he was doing the same."
Maggie's husband and former Sun Devil baseball and Los Angeles Dodgers star Andre Ethier is grateful to Rich for teaching him how to truly lift weights and that there are no limits to what you can do. Ethier talked about the importance of weight training and about how an athlete's success is often largely dependent on whether or not they are putting in work in the weight room.

It may not be talked about as much as it should be, but strength training and conditioning is integral to an athlete's success in each and every sport. And Rich is as good as they come when it comes to strength and conditioning. He certainly doesn't get as much credit as he deserves, but he was honored in quite a nice fashion earlier this year. 
Tim McClellan created the Arizona Strength Athlete Hall of Fame early in the year, a hall of fame that honors Arizona weightlifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders and coaches. Rich Wenner was one of the initial inductees and he considered it to be quite an honor.
"To be in the group of people that was also inducted is really special because the state itself kind of had a special history in strength training and athletic strength backgrounds just in general," Wenner said. "I think it's really special to just be one of that whole crew. I'm a little speechless I guess."
At the end of the day, everybody appreciates a pat on the back and the people they serve appreciating what they do. But Rich Wenner doesn't do what he does because he expects people to appreciate him; Rich Wenner does what he does because he understands that he has expertise and life experience that can help young adults get the most out of their college experience and become the best individuals they can be.
Rich Wenner is kind, considerate and the best at what he does. He wouldn't be at Arizona State after all these years if his job and helping student-athletes get a little bit better didn't mean the world to him.
"I just really care about them becoming better and doing what they can to get better," Wenner said. "It's been a great ride so far and it's been great to have been around a university like ASU. When I first moved here, I think Rural Road went down into the river bed and closed when it rained. Now to look back on those days and look at what ASU is now, it's kind of mind-blowing, how much it's grown, how much it's boomed, how much it's changed. It's just fun to be part of that. I'm very appreciative to ASU for allowing me to be a part of that."