Josh Kendall

USC linebackers coach has experience where it counts

Coleman Hutzler doesn’t take it personally when his linebackers go out of their way to talk football with South Carolina’s other linebackers coach.

Hutzler coaches inside linebackers for the Gamecocks, as well as coordinating the special teams. Mike Peterson coaches the Gamecocks’ outside linebackers, which consist of the strong side linebacker and Buck positions. Hutzler has more experience as a college coach, six years compared to zero for Peterson.

What Hutzler doesn’t have is Peterson’s 14 years of NFL playing experience, and that’s the reason Peterson’s sought after and respected among South Carolina’s players.

“It definitely gets players’ attention,” said South Carolina senior Darius English, who plays Buck. “A guy that played in the league 14 years definitely knows what he’s talking about.”

English works with Peterson every day. Junior Bryson Allen-Williams, who’s playing primarily the weakside linebacker position, works more closely with Hutzler and has to seek out Peterson in his down time.

“I definitely spend a lot of time around coach Peterson,” Allen-Williams said. “The experience (he has) can help us in the future.”

Peterson played in college for Steve Spurrier at Florida, where he was on the 1996 national title team and was a first-team All-American linebacker in 1998. He went on to be a second-round pick and play for the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.

That extensive NFL experience is in sharp contrast to his coaching experience. After retiring following the 2012 season, Peterson returned to Florida to finish his degree and worked as an assistant coach in the strength and conditioning program. When South Carolina coach Will Muschamp hired Peterson in January, it was the first on-field coaching job of his career.

“The connection has been there since I first finished playing,” said Peterson, who worked under Muschamp during his first season in the Gators weight room. “He knew I always wanted to get into coaching. We just stayed in constant communication and things just worked out for the best. I’m lucky, lucky situation to be under a guy who is respected around college football and also in the NFL for being in the top ranks of Xs and Os. You play the game so long, but there still are always things you can learn from coaches.”

On a staff that features the fiery personalities of Muschamp, Hutzler, and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson, Peterson’s calm demeanor stands out.

“Coach Pete is one of the most laid-back coaches we have,” Allen-Williams echoed.

That shouldn’t be mistaken for the lack of an edge, Peterson said.

“I shoot them straight. I don’t sugarcoat it with the guys,” he said. “I take a style that is probably a little different from a lot of guys, but I try to have a style that I would have wanted when I was a player. I try to translate that into coaching.”

Hutzler has been impressed with how quickly Peterson has learned on the job.

“Mike’s done a great job,” Hutzler said. “Mike played 14 years in the NFL, so any questions or comments I have, he’s a great guy for me to lean on. He’s been great. His outside linebackers love working with him and my guys love being around him.”

Peterson knows his résumé carries weight in South Carolina’s locker room.

“I think I get their ear a little different than a lot of guys,” he said. “I think it’s a natural thing. A lot of these kids here grew up watching me play on Sunday, so it’s a natural thing for them to maybe listen to me a different way. My thing is I have to use that and funnel that in the right way.”