UK assistant Nord should know all the Cards' tricks

Kentucky assistants Greg Nord, left, and Mike Summers, right, posed for a photo with head coach Joker Phillips during Media Day.
Kentucky assistants Greg Nord, left, and Mike Summers, right, posed for a photo with head coach Joker Phillips during Media Day.

The Louisville Cardinals have played 75 college football games in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Greg Nord has worn the red and black as part of the U of L coaching staff in every one of them.

When the Cardinals kick off the Charlie Strong era Saturday against visiting Kentucky, the 54-year-old Nord will again be there coaching.

With a twist.

In a stadium he knows as well as the back of his own hand, Nord will be decked out in Wildcats blue.

After 15 years as an assistant under four different Louisville head coaches, Nord will be supervising the tight ends and the special teams for new Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.

Which has to feel more than a little weird.

"The biggest difference," Nord said Friday, "is that you are going to a road game where you're probably more familiar with the stadium and the atmosphere than any of the Louisville coaches."

Switching sides in our state's great Blue/Red college sports divide is not unprecedented for Nord. In the 1970s, he was a quality player at center and then tight end for Fran Curci at Kentucky.

After his playing days ended, Nord started his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Curci at UK. When Jerry Claiborne took the Kentucky job in 1982, he hired Nord as his running backs coach.

That was a good spot. Claiborne believed in running the football. George Adams, Marc Logan, Mark Higgs, Ivy Joe Hunter, Alfred Rawls and Al Baker were some of the Kentucky standouts Nord tutored.

When Bill Curry took over the UK head coaching job in 1990, Nord was not retained.

After stops at East Carolina and Georgia Tech, he returned to the commonwealth in 1995 to work on the staff of then-new Louisville coach Ron Cooper.

Until this season, he'd never left.

Nord's first game in red and black came in Commonwealth Stadium against the school for whom he had both played and coached. U of L won 13-10.

"When I came back the last time," Nord said, "I'd been removed from the state. There weren't as many people that I actually knew looking back across the field at me."

Come Saturday, Nord will look at the Louisville sideline and will know almost everyone. U of L sophomore tight end Nate Nord is his nephew.

In the vagabond life that is a big-time college football assistant, it is rare to last in one place 15 years. After Cooper, John L. Smith, then Bobby Petrino and finally Steve Kragthorpe all kept Nord.

Under Smith and Petrino, Nord was part of some of the best seasons in Louisville football history. After Kragthorpe's disappointing three-year run, his gig in the Derby City was up.

After briefly taking a job on Ron Zook's staff at Illinois, Nord came back to Kentucky when Phillips ousted special teams coach Steve Ortmayer earlier this summer.

"Greg's heart is here at Kentucky," says UK offensive line coach Mike Summers, one of Nord's best friends. "But certainly when you stay somewhere as long as he did, his family and his roots are in Louisville. He'll have a lot of emotions flying through his mind and his stomach, I'm sure, as we go back there."

Summers is no stranger to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium himself. For four years under Petrino (2003-06), he coached the offensive lines that allowed Bobby P.'s high-octane offenses to flourish.

His success at U of L helped Summers take his reputation as a (very good) line coach to the next level.

"There's a lot of great memories in that stadium," Summers said. "There's a lot of great people involved with that program who were very good to me when I was there. But when you've been in coaching for 30 years, you get to have a lot of different animals on your sweater. I'm a Wildcat."

As, again, is Nord.

In the run-up to Saturday's game, one subplot figures to be how much of an advantage it is, if any, for Kentucky to have a coach on staff who is so intimately familiar with the Louisville personnel.

Which Cardinals tend to tire late in games? Who does or doesn't like contact? Who can be drawn offsides with a hard count?

For the overwhelming majority of the U of L roster, Nord figures to know those answers.

"I don't know that it's that great an advantage," Nord said. "I'm sure if there were some flaws in any of (the Cardinals players), I'm sure they've been working to get them corrected, just as we have."

For the guy who has coached for Louisville in every single game ever played in Papa John's, one thing that can't be understated is how weird it's going to feel Saturday to be back in that house — but on the other side.

"Certainly," Greg Nord says, "this is going to be a little different for me."

Just a little.