After months of answering questions about his professional and personal life, Friday was Bobby Petrino’s chance to start talking football again.
Western Kentucky’s first-year coach led the Hilltoppers through their first spring practice at Houchens-Smith Stadium, marking his first official practice as a head coach in nearly a year.
Petrino was fired by the University of Arkansas in April and hired at WKU in December to replace Willie Taggart, who left for the University of South Florida.
But Friday was about the future.
“I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it,” Petrino said. “I was impressed with our coaching staff. I thought they did an excellent job in the preparation for the practice. I liked their energy and intensity. I had fun.”
Petrino and his staff came at the players with an overwhelming amount of information and a fast pace by design.
The coaches will lay out most of their information over the next week, Petrino said, then re-install it starting with the eighth practice.
“That’s always kind of been our philosophy,” Petrino said. “Then we come back in the fall and do it again, so teach everything three times, and then it’s up to us as a coaching staff to understand what our players can do well, what our quarterback can execute and build our offense and defense around our players.”
The players were on the field completing drills before their 4 p.m. start time Friday, and the practice moved briskly through specific periods, which were logged with a countdown clock on the bottom half of the old side of the stadium.
The faster pace, along with the first-time instruction from new coaches, forced some adjustments from the players, running back Antonio Andrews said.
“The biggest thing is getting used to how coaches coach you, how they approach you,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got a yelling coach, sometimes you’ve got a soft-spoken coach. And then the game play – practice tempo done picked up a lot, put it that way.”
Applying so much pressure early allows the coaching staff to see which players already possess poise, Petrino said.
Not too surprisingly, he cited the veteran secondary, linebacker, offensive line, tight end and running back groups as those that rose to the occasion. That included specific compliments toward Andrews and defensive back Jonathan Dowling.
Others, such as the inexperienced defensive linemen, receivers and quarterbacks, were trying to keep up.
“We throw a lot of balls in practice,” Petrino said. “They get a lot of work, which I think is probably new to a lot of them. I was impressed with their effort, and everyone tried hard.”
But solid effort by itself won’t cut it as the Toppers progress, Petrino said.
He stopped practice numerous times to point out details and teach absolute basics, which he’s learned over the years are what make your vision work, he said.
“The key to our success in the past has been that the players have bought into attention to detail, technique and fundamentals,” he said. “They have to understand that how you do that makes the scheme work. It’s not any magical schemes out there. It’s how well we get in a stance and use our technique. I like our team and how they’ve bought into it.”
That attention to detail extends beyond the football field.
The players ran in the final minutes of practice for failing to clean up the locker room Thursday. As the Tops bent down to run sprints, Petrino yelled, “Learn to do things right!”
“He really believes doing things right is going to get your far,” linebacker Xavius Boyd said. “So if you’re not doing things right in the classroom or your personal life, you really aren’t going to do things right on the field. You have to approach everything the right away. We’re taking him real serious, I can tell you that.”
Three Tops out for spring
Petrino announced through a release Friday that three WKU players will miss the duration of spring practice with injuries.
Senior fullback Kadeem Jones (foot), sophomore defensive lineman Gavin Rocker (shoulder) and junior offensive lineman Cameron Clemmons are out.
Practices open to public
All of WKU’s spring practices will be open to the public.
The Toppers continue their spring schedule with practices at 10 a.m. today and Sunday at Smith Stadium.