MONMOUTH — It was a moment 17 years in the making.
Western Oregon’s Director of Sports Performance Cori Metzgar-Deacon was named a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA) in a ceremony May 7. She joins elite company in her field — there are 160 master coaches nationwide, including fewer than 15 women.
Metzgar-Deacon qualified for the honor two years ago. It wasn’t until now that she felt compelled to accept when — like throughout her career — she could accomplish a bigger purpose.
A new world
Metzgar-Deacon discovered the world of strength and conditioning coaching purely by chance.
She was no stranger to the weight room, lifting since she was 13. But it was after her athletic career was cut short that she discovered her passion.
“I played soccer and was a downhill ski racer at Fort Lewis College,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “I ended up having to end my career early because I broke my back. I ended up working for my strength coach there and he said, I think you’d be really good at it. I was like, this is a field? There are real jobs in this? That was in the ’90s and there wasn’t a ton of jobs.”
Metzgar-Deacon became driven to succeed, serving as a graduate assistant at Western Michigan, where she earned her Master’s degree. She worked at Ohio State for a year, before spending five years each at Colorado State and Washington State before arriving in Monmouth.
Metzgar-Deacon was always looking to help break down gender barriers.
“I was told by a couple people in my field that I would never be a director of strength and conditioning over football,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “When I left Ohio State, someone told me that. At that time, there weren’t any females in that role. I just smiled and said we’ll see.”
Almost 14 years later, she would get her chance.
Making her mark
Throughout her career, Metzgar-Deacon was on a mission — to become a strength and conditioning director and overseeing a football program, becoming one of only a few women nationwide to hold that position.
Western Oregon offered her the chance to accomplish both goals.
Metzgar-Deacon joined WOU’s staff in October 2011, but her decision to leave Washington State wasn’t easy.
“There was (hesitation) about going from Division I to Division II only for the reason that Western Oregon did not have a strength and conditioning department. Not only being a female director, but I would be starting a program and building it from the ground level. It was appealing, but also very scary. There was a lot of trepidation because I knew that coming here my first year, I would be the only strength coach for 13 sports.”
At Washington State, she worked with, at most, five teams.
Her visit to Western’s campus sealed the deal.
“I loved the campus, I loved the coaches and everyone that I met,” she said.
After she arrived, the real work began.
“The biggest challenge was, and I say this in a positive way, the lack of discipline,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “The athletes never had to lift. They could if they wanted to and some coaches made their teams lift, but some didn’t. It was kind of a free for all.”
Metzgar-Deacon worked to establish rules and standards. Often, she arrived at 4:45 a.m. and stayed until 7 p.m. Enforcing schedules, rules, and organizing the department by herself led to a stressful first year.
But her patience paid off, resulting in a smooth-running operation, one that benefitted players in a big way.
“She played a huge part in all the players’ individual success, as well as all of the team’s success,” former WOU football player Tyrell Williams said.
Over time, Metzgar-Deacon got to know her athletes, how best to push them and establish a routine.
“I love the kids that we get here,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “They work just as hard, if not harder, than those at the Division I level because they don’t get full scholarships, and are just doing what they love.”
As the first couple years went by, she received help via assistants and student interns. As her athletes got to know her better, things smoothed out.
“It runs effortlessly,” she said. “We always have hiccups, and that’s to be expected. But when I went to the conference, we had just our student interns and they ran the room for four days while I was gone. Two years ago, could I have said this was going to happen? Absolutely not. I would have shut the room if it was in my first or second year.”
Then, in 2013, she welcomed a daughter, Reba. It was also the year that she declined to accept being named a master coach. Two years later, her daughter helped her change her mind.
A new attitude
Throughout her career, Metzgar-Deacon has always tried to become an example for females to follow in the strength and conditioning world.
Welcoming a daughter into the world only reinforced that goal.
“I was going through the process of, should I accept this master coach award, — if you want to call it that, — or not,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “Someone said to me that this is going to be important for Reba that she sees her mom getting recognition. I want her to grow up with a strong female as a mom and see her work and love what she does. I think that’s really important and a lot of why I did it.”
Metzgar-Deacon said she is one of three women in the NCAA directly responsible for football strength and conditioning.
But no matter what sport she’s working with, Metzgar-Deacon said what she does isn’t just about helping students perform athletically. And that is more important to her than any title.
“What we do isn’t about lifting weights,” Metzgar-Deacon said. “It’s about helping these athletes develop into good people and role models.”