Peterson impressed by Muschamp, ready to coach

By Adam Silverstein
August 13, 2013

A Gainesville, FL, native, former Florida Gators linebacker Mike Peterson has spent the last 14 years travelling across the country with three different NFL franchises but never strayed too far away from home.

With his family still in Alachua County and his charity – the Mike Peterson Foundation – based in Alachua, FL, he has been in and out of the area plenty over the years.

It was not until 2011, however, that Peterson rekindled his relationship with the Gators football program. That year, he learned of his induction into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great” and had the opportunity to meet new head coach Will Muschamp for the first time.

“Man, I’m all for him,” Peterson told OnlyGators.com in April 2011. “I had a chance to meet with him. I love everything about him. I love the passion he brings to the game. [I’m] loving that he’s a defensive-minded guy. I’m all for him, man.”

As luck would have it, Peterson is now working on the same coaching staff as Muschamp after a suggestion from his academic advisor at Florida – he is two classes away from graduating with an undergraduate degree in sociology – led him to reach out and inquire about a coaching position with the Gators.

“I had been talking with him and going to class and slowly trying to get towards my degree. He mentioned to me, ‘Why don’t you go out and work with the team?’ It’s something I had thought about but never taken the initiative,” Peterson explained Tuesday. “I went and spoke with Coach Muschamp about it and he was very accepting of it. A little different than I would have expected, but he was very accepting of it. Just knowing him over a couple years, coming back and speaking with the team, I knew it would be a place I would definitely fit in. And the rest is history.”


Asked what was “different” about his conversation with Muschamp, Peterson noted how the head coach was immediately agreeable to the situation and did not hesitate about bringing him on board.

“I didn’t assume he would be so accepting of it. You got a guy coming in, played a lot of football … he was very accepting of it,” Peterson said. “He’s been in my corner. I’m just thrilled to work with him. I get a chance to see how he goes about his day to day, how very detailed he is. He’s a great coach. So I get a chance to see that, not as being a player but as being a coach.”

Peterson has been through his share of great coaches in his career starting, of course, with Steve Spurrier at Florida. He began his NFL career in Indianapolis, ending his tenure there under the tutelage of Tony Dungy, and has spent the last four seasons working with Mike Smith in Atlanta.

In his opinion, Muschamp stacks up with the best he has witnessed in his long career.

“He’s right there with them. That was one of the things that attracted me to coming back and helping out with the team, after meeting coach,” Peterson said.

“You never know what you’re going to get from a head coach. You hear this, you hear that, but to get a chance to sit down and talk with him, speak the same language as we say, football language with him, I didn’t have no doubt. I said, ‘Yeah, I can definitely work with a guy like that.’”

He continued: “I think the focus of the whole team is in the right direction and a lot of that stems from the head coach. When you got a head coach and the coaches are singing the same song, as we say in the league, you get the players to buy into it. The players buy into it, it trickles all the way down to the trainers, to the media staff. When the head coach and the head of the team is pointing it in the right direction and focused, you get that from the players.”

So far, so good for Peterson, who is “having a blast” working as an undergraduate assistant coach and spending most of his time on the defensive side of the ball. He imparts knowledge he has amassed over the years on the players and teaches them how to act professionals as they go about their business on a day-to-day basis.

Though he is not technically retired just yet – “No need to rush. I just want to make sure when that door is closed, it’s all the way closed.” – and admitted that he would leave if called in the next week or two, Peterson is focused on Florida and his coaching career.

“I think the hardest part is letting go of the playing, being able to take that next step or set yourself up for your next career,” he said. “Right now I got a commitment to the team here. The longer this process goes on, it will be harder for me to go back. Within the next couple weeks or so I would definitely make a [retirement] announcement. I just want to make sure the door is closed all the way.

“I think I could go out right now and give you a full 16-game season, plus [postseason] games. That’s me. That’s the linebacker talking. My knees and my elbows may be saying a little something else. But I want to walk away from the game healthy. I still got to kids at the house, two little boys I got to be able to run behind. To be able to walk away with everything intact is a great feeling.”

Peterson hopes to show his two boys, Michael (6) and Gavin (3), how to persevere and never give up on long-held goals. That is one of the main reasons he decided to come back to school and finish his degree.

“You have two dreams as a kid, not in any particular order, but playing professional sports and getting a degree. I’m thrilled to be able to accomplish the latter one,” he said. “I’m going to be excited, but I think my parents and my grandparents may be more excited than me. That’s the dream they want, to see me get my degree before they leave this precious place.”

As a person, Peterson is relatively quiet and humble. But as a coach, he plans to resemble the Gators’ head coach, and not just because he is working under him.

“I’m more [like] Muschamp. I’m a linebacker, so you’re going to get mean,” he explained. “Now, I’ll probably sit back and in the meetings I sit back and coach guys up. Once it’s time to get out on the field, I’m a fiery guy.

“That tough love, I believe in that. I’m going to coach you up. I’m going to coach you up. Once I put my name on it and my stamp on it, I tell the guys, ‘You’re not representing yourself now you’re representing me, so I’m going to try to pull out the best in you.’”

In the end, returning to Gainesville is the perfect situation for Peterson. What better place to start the next phase in your life than to go back to where you were born and learned how to play the game you made into a career first by becoming a big-time name as a national championship-winning linebacker.

“I got to give a lot of thanks to Coach Muschamp, Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, the academic department for just accepting me and letting me come back. If I could’ve put it on paper or dreamed about it, this would have definitely been the place where I wanted to get my coaching career started,” Peterson said.

“I played here, I grew up here, I was able to come back and play close here in my professional career. I think the kids are accepting of me and listen to what I have to say a little more because I’ve sat in the same seats they’re sitting in right now.”

NOTABLE QUOTES

On if he wants to start his career with his first job in high school, college or in the NFL: “I want to go on, I want to move up. I’m battling right now do I want to make a start in college ball or professional ball, but I do know I want to finish in professional ball. I want to work the ranks. One day I want to sit and be able to pick the guys out. I had dreams when I was young. The dream was to play. Now the dream is to form my own team.”

On being humble as a player and person: “You got to be a humble guy. Being a humble guy, it don’t come with just saying, ‘I’m humble.’ It comes with your upbringing. I can’t take no credit for that. My parents are humble people and they make me be humble, so I can’t fake it in that aspect. It’s just what it is. To be a team player, to me, I assume that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re trying to accomplish what everybody is trying to accomplish. To me, I think that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

On accepting a back-up, “coach on the field” role with the Falcons: “I think I had a great opportunity to be there with Coach Smith. It was a humbling experience to be able to sit on the sideline after being a starter for so many years, sit on the sideline and coach players up. Coach Smith, he gave me a great opportunity because a lot of times in meetings, he would let me run the meetings. So I would actually have to get up there and explain the defensive meeting, explain the coverages. I’m comfortable in that role.”

On dominating Peyton Manning on the field: “I’m 4-0 against Peyton Manning in college. I remind him of that every time I see him. But he’s a good guy, man. Peyton’s a good guy. You see one guy in front of the camera, but when the camera’s off, he’s like me and you.”

On never winning a Super Bowl ring: “No regrets. You play the game to win a ring. I can’t take back my 14 years. I had a great career. I met some great people. I’ve made some great plays. I was chasing it. I saw what I could do. You chase it as hard as you can chase it, and if you did that and you put in all the work you could put in, you feel at peace and you can look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about it.”

7 Comments

  1. Timmy T says:

    Awesome interview, Adam! Love me some Mike P.

  2. Gator man says:

    Tell you what; Peterson could be an incredible asset to this team. A guy with that type of experience that wants to share his success= great get!!!!

  3. Joe says:

    With Peterson the GA on defense and Leak the GA on offense, this has got to be one of the best coaching staffs top to bottom in Gator history.

    • gatorboi352 says:

      While I too am excited at the prospects of this, it is important to understand that “great player != great coach”.

  4. Michael Jones says:

    I think that it’s a great move on so many levels to bring back these Gator greats to work with our kids. It’s also kind of a generational liason between the older coaches and the players. It’s got to mean a lot to our young players to see that these guys who have done it before on a very high level want to help them accomplish the same goals. Got to be good for recruiting too.

    Like I said before, heady times in Gator land. . heady times. I don’t want to make any predictions, but this could be a very special year. Heck, last year was nothing to sneeze at.

  5. Todd says:

    I love how Mike P looks at life. He seems like one of the good guys. I enjoyed his career in college and the years he was here in Atlanta. I look forward to seeing what comes next for him and the Gators.

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