Mark Story: UK O-line coach Summers takes scholarly approach to physical play

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 9, 2010 

  • UK spring practice

    When: Through April 23

    Where: Nutter Training Facility

    Practices: 9-11:20 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri. and Sat. (open to public through this weekend only)

    Blue-White Spring Game: 1 p.m. Sat., April 24, at Commonwealth Stadium

An offensive line coach makes his living teaching mammoth-sized gladiators football's version of hand-to-hand combat. Yet Mike Summers, Kentucky's new O-line coach, brings almost a professorial air to this manly task.

It's not just his spectacles, either.

"He likes to get you in the classroom and draw stuff on the board," UK offensive tackle Brad Durham said. "He really emphasizes the mental reps."

For Summers, the architect of the lines that powered Bobby Petrino's scoreboard-busting offenses at Louisville from 2003-06, his first spring practice working for new Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips is his own personal homecoming.

Summers graduated from Tates Creek High. He played his college football at Georgetown College. He began his coaching career at UK with two seasons on Fran Curci's staff as a graduate assistant way back in 1980 and '81.

After Curci got fired, Summers was launched on the nomadic existence that is the life of the career football assistant. His journey wound through College Station, Texas; DeKalb, Ill.; Corvallis, Ore.; Sewanee, Tenn.; Stillwater, Okla.; Athens, Ohio.; Louisville; Atlanta; and (woo pig sooie) Fayetteville, Ark.

"It was always a dream of mine to get a chance to come back to Kentucky," Summers said Wednesday. "I grew up in Lexington. My first coaching job was with Coach Curci. It's been 30 years, and I've wanted to come back and coach here and be part of this program."

Last winter, when Rich Brooks retired and Phillips assumed the top job at UK, one of Joker's first calls went out to Summers. The two had known each other since Summers was a Kentucky graduate assistant and Phillips was a top in-state recruit UK was wooing.

"He was a feisty young receiver that had, maybe, more confidence than ability when he first started," Summers recalled of the young Joker. "Then his ability caught up to his confidence, and he became a great player."

When UK called Fayetteville to offer Summers a chance to come home, it put him in a bit of a quandary. Summers' greatest success had been through his seven-year association with Petrino. After their days rewriting the offensive record book at U of L, Petrino took Summers with him when the head coach went to the Atlanta Falcons and then to Arkansas.

But coming back to Lexington meant being near family. Summers' wife, Kathy, is the daughter of former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall. The pull of home won out.

What was it like when Summers went in to tell the sometimes-volatile Petrino he was leaving for Kentucky?

"No comment," he said.

No comment?

"I'd just rather not comment on it," Summers said. "I had seven very productive, very successful years with (Petrino). Our relationship and all that, I just don't want to comment. It can't come out good any way I say it."

Reaction in Lexington to Summers' career move did merit comment.

"Oh my gosh, I'm excited," Hall said. "First of all, I enjoy Mike's coaching expertise. And having my family home, it means all the world to me."

Summers has found that being back in the Bluegrass has brought some unanticipated responsibilities. He says he is Hall's "chauffeur. Every night, he goes somewhere. He has the fullest schedule of any 81-year-old I've been around."

The fate of Phillips' first year as UK head football coach might depend in large degree on how Summers fares in his day job. Last season, a veteran offensive line was the strength of a UK team that won at Auburn and Georgia while earning a fourth straight bowl trip. Four of the starters from that unit have graduated.

"Probably the worst word in the offensive-line description would be inexperience," Summers said. "Even though we've had some guys on the field before, we haven't had guys with significant playing time, nor have they played side by side with each other."

While incorporating new personnel, the Kentucky offensive front is learning a new approach.

"It's a pretty significant change from the past few years," said guard Stuart Hines, UK's returning full-time line starter. "We're really trying to focus more on firing off the ball and capturing the line of scrimmage and pushing the defense off the ball. Before, we kind of stretched it out more. Now, we're trying to be more physical and attack people."

With Mike Summers, a professorial approach to offensive-line play tends to yield some downright physical football.

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