LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For Bobby Petrino, summer is no vacation. The first thing new assistant coaches learn is that summertime doesn't mean lazy evenings at home. He's been known to keep the lights on past 11 p.m. at the football complex — in June.
That will be even more the case this summer, particularly given the University of Louisville football schedule announced on Wednesday. His first game back as Cardinals coach will be a spotlight national ESPN telecast on Monday Night, Sept. 1. It'll also be the Atlantic Coast Conference debut for the Cardinals, and will come against a Miami program it just dispatched in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Moreover, the Cards have road games at Clemson, Virginia and Notre Dame, and home visits from defending national champion Florida State (on Thursday night) and rival Kentucky (in the season finale).
Of the teams on U of L's schedule, only UK and perhaps Syracuse are teams Petrino has much familiarity with. And here's why that is going to mean some busy nights for Petrino and his staff.
Petrino likes to put together complete game plans for every team he will face the upcoming season during the summer months. These aren't final versions, but they allow the staff to construct a basic plan based on what they see as opponents' philosophies and approaches. It allows the staff to start to emphasize skills they will need for the coming season, and gives them a chance to plan for possible areas of attack without the deadline pressure that a season brings.
It's no small order. It entails detailed write-ups of each team's strengths, weaknesses and personnel, digitized video of every opponent, fully marked with edits, and meetings to discuss every aspect of each opponent. All during the "down-time" of summer. And this summer, Petrino won't have the advantage of experience in putting some of these plans together. In fact, the crunch will begin with an initial look at each opponent before spring practice.
I asked him Wednesday how much extra work the new-look schedule would be.
"I think there'll be a lot," he said. "We have to get familiar with the conference and style of offenses and defenses. We'll have to do some write-ups on what each team's style is, to know if there's something extra we need to do in practice through spring ball in preparation for when we go to camp in August. So that's important. Also, it's something you have to look at the talent and understand what it is that we need to do going forward in recruiting. But we've been through this before, and that's something that's good. We made the transition from Conference USA to the Big East, and we felt like we had to do some things with our roster in terms of size and strength and style of play with the offensive and defensive lines. So we have a lot of work ahead of us but it's certainly very motivating."
When U of L began play in the Big East, Petrino noted that it would be facing bigger players on both the offensive and defensive lines and began to adapt his personnel and recruiting accordingly. In the ACC, there are high-powered offenses in Clemson and Florida State, but Petrino said he doesn't yet have what he would consider a complete profile of the types of things U of L will see consistently in the ACC.
"We'll just have to see how it plays out," he said. "Clemson loses a lot of really good players and guys who were in that scheme and playing at a very high level for a number of years. Florida State has a great quarterback coming back who has shown he can put a lot of points on the board. But in real tight and close games, you know, it comes down to the defense. We're going to have to play great defense. We're going to have to be able to create turnovers, get stops on third down and get the offense the ball back. A lot of times when you look at games and think this game will be a shootout, just the opposite happens. You have to be able to perform in all three phases."
As for drawing on his experience of preparing the program to enter a new conference in the Big East, Petrino said that would be helpful, but that things are different now. Not only is it a different league, but he probably does things a bit differently, too.
"The biggest difference is going to be the styles of offense," he said. "We have to do a lot of evaluating of offenses to help with our recruiting and knowing how many defensive backs to take, the number of spread offenses that are in the conference, how many receivers in the game. Football is a little bit different than it was back then when we transitioned into the Big East. So I think that's one of the major concerns, to understand how we manage our roster with the number of linebackers, defensive backs, D-linemen, and then offensively just understanding what the philosophies of the defenses in the conference are, how much protection concern you have, how much blitz pickup you have to practice. Like I said, there's going to be a lot of work to do."
Given his preference, Petrino would rather not start with a conference game right off the bat. But that's the schedule U of L was given, and he said he does like the idea of a high-profile opener to serve as a motivational tool with his players — and coaches — throughout the spring and summer.
"We'll use it for a motivating factor throughout the entire winter, through mat drills and summer program, to get ready for a big game," Petrino said. "I like doing that, playing a big game to start the season, because it makes everybody work harder, makes every run that you do, every workout, more important, and I've always had a lot of fun in preparation for an opener like that. It'll play into recruiting, being able to be on a national stage on a Monday when no one else is playing. You know, everybody watches those games, players are home, they don't have their games or study sessions, so they're watching. It's a great way to kick off the season and start our recruiting off, also."
Even if it means a little less sleep over the summer.