University of Louisville

Eschewing ‘yell-and-scream’ approach, Louisville’s Summers seeks O-line improvement

Louisville football’s Mike Summers, a Lexington native, previously was an assistant at UK.
Louisville football’s Mike Summers, a Lexington native, previously was an assistant at UK. 2010 staff file photo

Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. But coaches apparently do not have to raise their voices. Who knew?

Louisville’s new offensive line coach, Mike Summers, said he prefers a reasoned, civilized approach to his job.

“I’m not a big yell-and-scream guy,” he said at U of L’s football media day earlier this month.

Instead, he said he wants to build a trusting relationship with his players. If they believe he cares, then they will care.

“They develop a passion in that ‘I want to do it just like he’s telling me to do it,’” Summers said. “So that if I do a good enough job of building and strengthening that relationship, then their commitment level to doing things the way I want them to be done is just that much better and that much deeper.”

The players had already noticed a lower volume of instruction.

“He’s not the usual coach I’ve been around,” said Lukayus McNeil, a junior tackle from Indianapolis.

Geron Christian, a junior tackle from Ocala, Fla., said Summers communicates on a personal level.

“He talks to you …,” Christian said. “He’ll tell you why he wants you to do something. If you have any questions, he’ll answer them.”

The big, overall question for Summers is this: can he take an offensive line that lost three starters and fashion a group capable of protecting Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson? And as every U of L fan knows, opposing defenses sacked Jackson 22 times the final three games of last season — all losses.

When asked about Summers and his all-important task, Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino expressed confidence in the new leader of the O-line.

“First and foremost, he’s a great teacher,” Petrino said. “So he really stresses the knowledge of the game, the knowledge of technique.”

Petrino also pointed out how Summers regularly invites his linemen to come to his home.

Players will see a drill-sergeant approach a mere ploy if it’s not true to the coach’s personality, Summers said. As a player, he did not need screaming and yelling. “I was a pleaser,” he said. “I wanted to do everything the coach asked me to do. And when I wasn’t able to do that, it was enough for him to look at me with a stern look on his face.”

Of course, some players respond better when the target of yelling and screaming. “I just told you how I like to do it,” Summers said of his teaching preference. “I didn’t tell you I couldn’t do that. I can meet the moment with whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Summers, a Lexington native and a son-in-law of former Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall, is no stranger. He worked on the staff in Petrino’s first stint as U of L coach. He was also alongside him at Arkansas and the Atlanta Falcons.

This familiarity breeds confidence.

“Coach Petrino’s offense, it’s not a first-grade offense, OK?” Summers said. “And so I have been through this before. … The basics of the offense I understand. And that’s made it easier for me.”

When asked if the 22 sacks in the final three games scarred the linemen, Summers said it left a mark on all players.

“The whole team had so much on the table,” he said.

Summers labeled the painful 42-36 loss at Clemson on Oct. 1 as further scar tissue.

“The way that happened would hurt anyone,” he said. “And certainly these guys have so much invested in this program.”

Jackson expressed confidence in his protectors.

“Our offensive line is a lot (more) physical …,” he said. “We’re going to be pretty good on the line.”

During media day, more than one U of L player or coach suggested that the offensive line took an unfair amount of criticism.

“They can’t catch the ball; they can’t throw the ball. …,” Jackson said. “They weren’t the only ones messing up.”

Summers called pass protection “an 11-man job.”

That would include Jackson. He relied more on jazzy improvisation than predictable orchestration in his breakout 2016. His darting and dashing complicated the linemen’s job.

“I think there’s something to that,” said Summers, who likened Jackson to Michael Vick, whom he and Petrino worked with in Atlanta.

There will be no quick fixes, Summers said.

“It’s like taking out a machete and hacking your way through the forest,” he said of preseason practices. “We’re just trying to get to the end of the forest right now. And we’re trying to get there with all of us together.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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