Offensive line coach Mike Summers appears to be the perfect fit for a head coach in Will Muschamp who has repeated over and over again that he wants the line of scrimmage to be where games are won and lost for the Florida Gators.
“I really believe that the offensive line should be the foundation for our football team,” said Summers on Monday during his introductory press conference. “They ought to be the example of how we want to play, the example of how we want to finish, the example of how to do things the right way.
“That’s the standard of excellence that’s going to be set for them to rise up to. I think the older I get the less tolerant I am. I don’t lower my standards to get to them. They have to come up to the standards that I set and those standards are going to be real high.”
For a unit that was supposed to be much-improved last season, it was anything but the case. Injuries had a lot to do with it – three starting tackles were lost, one of whom got hurt in the offseason – but those that stepped up failed to consistently open up holes in the run game or protect the quarterback.
Summers has not even bothered to look at film of the disastrous 2013 campaign. Instead, he has been focused on building social relationships with his players, opening lines of communication and doing all of it for the long-term good of the position group.
“We’re not going to progress very far unless we develop a relationship with each other,” he explained. “The thing about that is you can stand in front of a bunch of people and you can ask them to trust you, and that’s a whole lot easier to say than it is to have it accomplished. A trust relationship is going to be developed over time with how consistently I am able to interact with them and how they come to understand my approach to coaching the offensive line will be and how it impacts them.
“The great thing for them is that they all get to start at zero and build that reputation that they have from day one. My message [to] them is that we are going to be a tough offensive line that is technically sound, so the first thing we have to do is work on our fundamental foundation as an offensive line. So much of our success is dependent on our footwork, our landmarks, our hands and our eyes.
“But when you put your hand in the dirt, those aren’t the things you’re thinking about. You’re thinking about the guy across from you and executing the play. So, those things, those technical developments have to be committed to muscle memory. It has to be trained so when we snap the football, those guys can execute with speed, power and with the kind of emotion that we need in our offense.”
Summers will also be tasked with converting the offensive line into a unit that is capable of handling an up-tempo offense, which offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will be installing this offseason. He does not seem overly concerned with the charge; in fact, he’s pumped to have the opportunity.
“The offensive football is tilting now, for a long time, the offensive line had a bulls-eye on their chest and the defense was allowed to take target practice at us with their blitz pressures and the things that they do. The up-tempo kind of gives us a little more command over what goes on now. We’re able to get up, execute without allowing them to substitute, and we’re able to get up and execute our offensive schemes before they are allowed to get up there and dictate strength of formations, and try and blitz backs and do those kinds of things,” Summers said.
“I think we’ve tried for a long time, as offensive coaches we stood there and let them take their best shot at us, especially in the offensive line, and now it’s switching back a little bit. The up-tempo stuff is giving a little bit of an edge in that regard. From our offensive line standpoint, I really like it, because we’re able to get back on the ball and use the momentum you create in the up-tempo. I’m excited about that.”
Having the same mindset as Roper is one reason the hire made a lot of sense for Muschamp, who searched this offseason not just for talented offensive coaches but also a couple of guys that would, simply put, get along. That was not the case in 2013 with then-offensive coordinator Brent Pease and then-offensive line coach Tim Davis.
Roper had a lot of say in the hire, according to Muschamp, who wanted to ensure the two would work well together in the long term.
“That’s why I didn’t really act much on the offensive line other than doing a lot of research to gather names that I felt personally fit me and Florida, but [Roper] needed to be involved in that interview process, and he was,” Muschamp explained.”
It also helped that wide receivers coach Joker Phillips was a mutual friend and acquaintance of the two men.
“Joker’s experience with those guys, having been there with those guys before, it’s very important,” said Muschamp. “I talked to multiple people that have coached with those guys, guys I know or trust their opinions. Any time you’re able to become more familiar with somebody through someone else’s eyes that maybe you think is what you’re looking for. Joker understands what we needed and what we were looking for here at Florida, there’s no question.”
Summers, in fact, was a coach at Kentucky and one of Phillips’s recruiters when he was just a high school prospect.
“I know all the good things, and the things he did in high school, and the things he wouldn’t want anyone to know about – I’ve known for a long time,” Summers joked in regards to Phillilps. “But I have tremendous respect for his coaching ability and for him as a person. When I was at Arkansas and he had the head job at Kentucky, he called me [to be running game coordinator and offensive line coach] and I had no hesitation. I wanted to be with him; I wanted to be where he was at. I respect him so much as a man and as a coach.”
Experience, knowledge, coaching talent and fit were all boxes Muschamp was able to check off for Summers. But he also wanted someone enthusiastic about joining the Gators and turning the program around. He found that in the veteran assistant as well.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity that Coach Muschamp and Mr. [Jeremy] Foley gave me to come to Florida. This is where I want to be. I believe I can make an impact in what’s going on – on the offensive line,” he explained.
“I feel extremely comfortable with the coaches we have on this offensive staff. Coach Roper has come in, and he has an energy and a passion with what he does. We’ve been able to cross paths in the last seven or eight years in different places. We even go back further than that. His energy, Coach Phillips’s experience, all of us coming together, I feel so good about this offensive staff right now and all of us being able to get in there and lock arms and present a united front to the offensive players on this team.
“They’re going to know that they’ve been coached and they’re going to be coached by a group of guys that really cares about them, cares about the University of Florida.”
» On coaching the Gators: “There are jobs out there when you start out in coaching and look at and think, ‘This is where I’d love to be someday.’ Florida has always been that for me. I grew up in Kentucky, grew up in SEC country and have always looked at Florida from the outside wishing I could be on the correct sideline. I’ve been in this stadium several times on the wrong sideline, and I’m very thankful to be coming out of this locker room and be a part of this program. The reputation of this program is strong. I’ve been doing it long enough to know that at every program has ebbs and flows to it, but this foundation and the reputation of this program will always been strong. The things that I’ve seen in a short time that I’ve been here makes me encouraged that we’re going to get right back to that point.”
» On what has stood out already about Florida: “The one thing that I know is that the players I’ve met on this football team are hungry to be successful. And they believe in Coach Muschamp. They believe in this program. And all of those feelings have come through to me just in the short time that I’ve been here. I’m encouraged that when we start into the offseason program that they’ve got that hunger that’s burning to get themselves back to where they want to be. And because of that, and because of the passion of the coaching staff, I feel confident that we can do that.”