LONG BEACH — Universities can no longer be content with renowned physics labs, lovely lawns and plush student unions. Now, to avoid a sure plunge into disgrace, they must provide chic places where their athletes can build better bodies. These are called modern weight rooms.
To be big time in sports, you have to have one. The modern weight room is one of the first things prospective recruits ask to see when they visit a campus.
Finally, Cal State Long Beach has one. Made of brick and decorated in brown and gold, it is mirrored, carpeted, mercifully airy and filled with barbells, muscle-building machines and stereo music.
Just as important as the modern weight room is the person who runs it. He is called the strength coach and he has one of the better jobs in the world.
The Long Beach strength coach is Mark Paulsen, an impressively structured man of 27 whom the 49er football players nicknamed "The Terminator" because of how he first swaggered into their presence with his biceps and dark glasses a year ago.
'An Ego Boost'
Wherever he goes, he is gawked at.
'It's an ego boost but I'm not hung up on it," said Paulsen, who was born in Minnesota with California-blue eyes. "You see so many people into body building who go to the beach and it's, 'Look at me, look at me.' I'm not that type of person."
The people who know him are impressed as much with his gentleness, cordiality and intelligence as with his 6-foot-4, 255-pound stature.
During a 49er football game last season, Paulsen rushed into the stands when a fight had broken out. Because it is not his nature to throw punches, he just flexed a few body parts. Immediately, a player recalled, everyone sat down.
Because of his size, he is often perceived by the gawkers as brainless.
"You look at a lot of big people and they're stereotyped as muscle heads (who) can't think. . . . I get a lot of that," said Paulsen as he ate a bran muffin in his office. Outside his office, varsity athletes were working out. Besides football players, there were men and women basketball players and divers. Diane Lewis, the softball pitcher, curled a dumbbell.
The muscle-head image chafes on Paulsen, who has a master's degree in health education.
"I feel real good about my knowledge in the areas of lifting, running, stretching and body building," he said. "I think my greatest asset is building positive attitudes."
Just the sight of Paulsen hoisting weights with his 20-inch arms can be motivating to athletes, who rarely see coaches bigger and stronger than they are.
"I work out three times a week," said Paulsen, a former track star and football player at the University of Kansas. "I consider it part of the job. I have to work out to be a positive role model."
Football Coach Mike Sheppard said Paulsen is perfect for the job. "He looks the part," Sheppard said, "and he doesn't put up with fooling around."
On the football field Paulsen, with his sunglasses, loud voice and baseball cap, resembles a drill sergeant when he puts the players through stretching exercises. He comes across tough in the weight room too.
"They still aren't to the point where they come in and work as hard as they can for an hour and then leave," Paulsen said of the athletes he trains. "There's still a little too much talking. I expect a lot. They think I've been a pain in the butt before, but wait until the off season, then its really going to be intense in here."
All modern weight rooms, of course, must have a stereo system.
Music to Train By
"Some people need music to train," Paulsen said, "but some listen to music and before you know it their foot's tapping and they're dancing all over the floor. If I see they can't handle music, I'll just turn it off."
But he believes training should be enjoyable.
"I get a kick out of people who say 'pay the price' in the weight room," Paulsen said. "Paying the price is something people do in war when they go over and lose a leg for their country. Here you have the opportunity to go out and be the best athlete you can and get in here and have a good time and train your butt off. To me, that isn't paying the price, that's just trying to reach attainable goals."
When John Kasser became athletic director two years ago, he saw the need for better bodies.
"I noticed the athletes were not as physically developed as they should be," Kasser said.
At that time, Cal State Long Beach had an antiquated weight room that was not shown to football prospects. And there was no strength coach.
"Before him (Paulsen) there was no one here who knew about training," said Steve Sapp, a former football player and now one of Paulsen's assistants.
Kasser hired Paulsen, who had been the assistant strength coach at the University of South Carolina. Then boosters came through with $200,000 for the weight room and Paulsen just about built the place by himself. He poured concrete and installed the ceiling.
The bodies-by-Paulsen venture has paid early dividends.