Will Muschamp was nine years old when new offensive line coach Mike Summers took his first coaching job — a graduate assistant and offensive line coach at Kentucky. In fact, Summers was on the staff at Kentucky that helped recruit and sign Florida’s wide receiver’s coach Joker Phillips.
Summers has been around the block in the college coaching circuit. He has 34 years of experience — edging out both Brad Lawing and Brian White as the most senior coach on staff. His stops have included Kentucky, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and USC among others.
He’s coached a Rimington Award winner in Jonathan Luigs (Arkansas, 2008) as well as numerous All-Americans and all-conference players along the way. His track record as a coach and as a developer of talent is undeniable but his tallest task sits in front of him. Coming off of a disappointing season, Summers signed up to rebuild a proud program that he grew up marveling at.
“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,” Summers said. “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.”
To turn around the program, you have to start from the inside out, beginning with the offensive line. The Gators’ offensive line struggled throughout the 2013 season and, if we’re being honest, the line hasn’t lived up to expectations for several years. The Gators finished tied for 10th in the SEC in sacks allowed and were the worst in the league the year previous.
A power running team in 2012, the Gators averaged 4.53 yards-per-carry but saw that number drop drastically to 3.63 in 2013.
If the SEC is truly a line of scrimmage league — and it certainly is — the Gators have a lot of improving to do up front if they want to return to the top of the league.
“I really believe that the offensive line should be the foundation for our football team,” Summers proclaimed. “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. So that’s the standard of excellence that’s going to be set for them to rise up to.”
Summers will turn 58 years old this summer, a full 40 years older than his freshmen offensive linemen. How does a teacher who is so much older than his students relate and get the most out of the young men he oversees? It’s about building relationships, something he has had more than three decades of experience with.
“We’re not going to progress very far unless we develop a relationship with each other,” he said. “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 develop 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.”
It’s a coaching belief that was reaffirmed last season. Summers took over the offensive line at Southern Cal in 2013. The Trojans got off to a rocky start that ended up with Lane Kiffin getting canned after just five games. USC bounced back to finish the season 10-4 including a bowl victory.
“To start into this past season with a lot of question marks and then five games into to have things get turned upside down and then to finish with a 10-win season and a bowl victory was a testament to the coaches that were on that staff and to the players that believed in the coaches,” he said. “All that did was reaffirm my opinion and my understanding that if you have a great relationship with the guys that you coach, they will follow you anywhere and they will do what they ask you to do with passion.”
That relationship building process is just beginning with his new offensive line but it is priority number one for Summers. He’ll have to find replacements for senior leaders and veterans Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison as well as develop some young players who will be counted on to contribute in 2014. He’s confident in his ability to build relationships and pull the best out of the young men he is now in charge of. He feels good about the future and his new job — which he hopes will be the final stop in his long coaching career.
“I feel so good about this offensive staff right now,” Summers said. “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.”