UK football staff, players getting used to one another

ccosby@herald-leader.comApril 19, 2010 

Nothing causes more trepidation for a college football player than when his coach leaves.

The players might not be best friends with the coach. They might not even like the guy. But it's what they know. It's what they're used to.

So you can only imagine what was going on in the football ranks when shortly after taking over for Rich Brooks, new coach Joker Phillips let go offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins and defensive line coach Rick Petri.

Heggins had been on Brooks' staff for five years, while Petri served a four-year term. They were replaced with Mike Summers and David Turner, and then Phillips eventually brought on Tee Martin as wide receivers coach, Phillips' old post.

The initial uneasiness started to fade after the players did their homework and ultimately got to meet their new coaches.

UK offensive lineman Stuart Hines immediately did a Google search on Summers, who is renowned for his work with the Louisville and Arkansas O-lines.

"I think we were all a little concerned because most of us had played for Coach Heggins the whole time, so when that coach leaves, you really don't know what you're going to get," Hines said. "I did know a little about Coach Summers from when he was at Louisville, and the more research I did, the better I felt."

And while losing your position coach is often a hard thing to deal with, defensive end DeQuin Evans said the players ultimately had to trust in Phillips.

"I got kind of mad when I heard about Coach Petri because I had a bond with him," Evans said. "But at the same time you've got to know this is a business. And I had faith in Coach Phillips that he was going to do the right thing for this program."

The receivers had a little more info to work with because Martin was a national championship quarterback at Tennessee. And it doesn't hurt that Martin was a household name to his best player, Randall Cobb, who grew up just miles from the UT campus.

"Coming from that area, he was one of the guys I looked up to," Cobb said. "It's funny, about six months ago midway through the season I got a Facebook friend request from him. I accepted, and I told him I had always looked up to him and if anything were to happen, I'd love to have him up here, and then six months later, he's here. It's crazy how things happen."

The players have been adjusting to the different coaching styles of the new coaches this spring. Cobb said Martin is like a big brother to the receivers.

"He can relate to us about a lot of things," Cobb said. "Whether it's about working hard or stories about Peyton Manning and Peerless Price. We all listen."

Summers has a scholarly, college-professor approach. And Turner is a no-nonsense, in-your-face kind of guy, something Evans figured out in his first meeting with his new coach.

"When Coach Turner got hired, the first thing Coach Phillips did was bring him to my house," Evans said. "I said, 'Hey, how you doing?'" Evans said. "Then he said, 'Hey, how you doing, Coach.' Right there I knew he meant business."

Turner is tough on his guys when they mess up, but he's just as animated when he's congratulating them on making a play.

"I tried to explain to them when I first talked to them that I'm going to coach them hard," Turner said. "But at the same time I'm going to love them. On the field, it's nothing personal. We're going to get after it. But when we get off the field, all is forgotten. I think the key is that you coach them hard as long as they know you care. And I care about each and every one of these guys. If they just try to do what I ask them to do, I'll do anything for them."

When asked what the key to his communication with players, Martin, who's not a big screamer, said he just keeps it real.

"I'm as blatantly honest as I can be with them," he said. "I don't have time to sugarcoat or make friends. We all have a job to do. As long as we're scoring touchdowns and winning games, we're all smiling. If we're not, I might not be here very long."

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