Alex Wetmore did not expect to be defending his Ph.D. dissertation during a pandemic — and he certainly did not expect to be finding a job during one either.
Wetmore was hired Aug. 1 as the head strength and conditioning coach for Westminster College Athletics. His journey to Salt Lake City did not come without its trials, as the entire hiring process was done under COVID-19 restrictions.
Bree Anderson, the current director of compliance for Westminster athletics and the former head strength and conditioning coach, said the position holds more responsibilities than it sounds like.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about Alex’s job is that he is only supposed to make everyone strong and fast,” said Anderson. “However, strength, speed and agility are byproducts of proper progression and making the body move well.”
Wetmore’s hiring comes at an interesting time, as several universities across the country have canceled their Fall seasons — with several athletic positions getting furloughed until further notice.
Wetmore said this made the job search more difficult than he expected. However, Westminster Athletic Director Shay Wyatt said they identified Wetmore as a strong candidate for the position.
“Our committee identified Alex as a top candidate based on his qualifications and other attributes early on in our search process,” Wyatt said in an email to The Forum. “As our search progressed it became evident to our committee and I that Alex was our top candidate.”
The Forum sat down with Wetmore to talk about his journey to Westminster. Some answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
Q: Can you tell me about your background as a strength coach?
A: I did my undergraduate studies at Marian University. It was a small school, similar size to Westminster and I was on the football team there. As a student-athlete, I started to develop a passion for figuring out how to prepare myself and that led into pursuing both a degree and a career in sport and performance.
I did my master’s degree in sport science at East Tennessee State. I worked the teams there as well as being an assistant with the U.S Olympic training programs.
Thankfully, I just finished up my graduate education at East Tennessee, defended my Ph.D. dissertation and then got a call from Shay Wyatt [Westminster College Athletic Director].
Q: What were you doing during the months of quarantine?
A: That was a really interesting time for me. In high-level athletics, you spend all year long working towards an end goal in mind. It was a really weird time because I was working with teams that went away to spring break and then never came back from it because the university closed.
I felt really bad for the athletes because they didn’t get that chance to see where their hard work over the last year was going to end up.
For me, I was in the process of finalizing my dissertation. I was trying to plan out how I would be able to defend [the dissertation] and finish up.
Q: What was it like searching for a job during a pandemic?
A: The job search was pretty crazy during the pandemic, especially being somebody who works in athletics. I didn’t think anyone really thought the fall was going to have been as impacted as it did.
When I was getting close to finishing up my Ph.D., I started looking online for jobs and the only thing I was seeing online was that every university was canceling athletics and a lot of places have had to furlough their staff.
It was pretty crazy to even have an opportunity when so many schools are not bringing anyone new in. I’m super grateful to Shay [Wyatt] and to the department here that I even have an opportunity to work in athletics right now.
Q: Starting a new job during a pandemic can be difficult to get adjusted to. What was it like getting acquainted with the position during this time?
A: It’s been weird trying to meet everyone, put a face to the name and not being able to shake everybody’s hands. It has been really challenging.
I have been really lucky that everyone here has been helpful to me and making sure that we kind of had our protocols set. It has been a pretty wild ride.
Q: What has it been like coaching in a pandemic?
A: It’s been very different. Here at Westminster, we have done our best to take everyone outdoors and make sure we can have plenty of airflow and space for the athletes. We’re doing everything we can to keep people healthy.
Honestly, it’s been a really good challenge for my own creativity as a coach. We’ve been taking equipment out to the field where you’re not in a traditional weight room setting.
Getting to know the athletes has been an interesting challenge as well because everyone has a face mask on and we’re trying to give each other space. It has been really really unique.
Q: What is your advice for strength coaches who are looking for a job during this time?
A: If you’re someone who may not have work right now, it’s really easy to get down and frustrated that there are not many opportunities.
This is a good opportunity for people to work on their craft and reach out and learn from each other. Although we may not have competitive athletics this fall, this is a chance for us to invest in ourselves as coaches.
So when that opportunity does come up, you’ll be ready for it.