LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Disclaimer: I don’t know whether Scott Satterfield is going to win a ton of games at the University of Louisville, whether he’ll be Louisville’s version of Dabo Swinney or exorcise the memory of whatever it was that happened last season.

One thing he said at his first Louisville news conference, one thing he told the Cardinals’ football players, was good enough for me.

“I told them, we’re going to love on them,” Satterfield said. “We want to love on these guys. We’re going to put our arms around them and we’re just going to pull them up and bring them to win football games and championships.”

Obviously, it’s harder than that. But it has to start with that. Now, look. There’s more than one way to do something. I don’t think Nick Saban’s got his arm around all those players at Alabama. But I also think, in his way, he loves them. They trust that he’ll bring something out of them, that he wants what’s best for them.

There’s been talk about discipline and recruiting and talent and fire and all those things, certainly, are needed in this program. But in this day, with these players, and with kids everywhere, it starts with getting eye-to-eye and communicating, relating, loving. Kids in a classroom know if a teacher doesn’t care about them. They know when leaders aren’t authentic. And when they feel that, they check out.

So while Satterfield's message might not be the traditional language of football, it's a language Louisville's players will nonetheless understand. In this day with young people, and people who are not so young, it’s less about what you say than how you make them feel.

“It’s a new start, and that feels good,” Louisville safety C.J. Avery said. “There’s not a player in our locker room that doesn’t believe we’re better than we played. We’re looking forward to seeing what these coaches are about and learning from them.”

I don’t know how many four- or five-star players Satterfield will be able to recruit. And in the end, that’s what determines a lot at this level of college football. It’s amazing how much better a coach you are when you have a T.Y. Hilton (as Satterfield had as offensive coordinator at Florida International) or a Lamar Jackson (as Petrino had here).

But I did sense that the words and sentiments Satterfield laid out on Tuesday were sincere. He didn’t break out a bunch of motivational language. He didn’t roll out with a prepared presentation. It wasn’t slick. He talked about trust. And if he can build that with players, if he can build it with recruits, then he’ll have the beginnings of something.

“It starts with our culture, so that’s what we’re going to work on,” Satterfield said. “The very first thing I told them was that ‘guys, you have to trust me. And I have to trust you. And that’s the way our program’s going to work.’

“There’s a couple core values that we have,” Satterfield went on. “No. 1 is project positive energy. In this world we’re living in, there is so much negativity out there that it drives you crazy. Everybody’s doubting you, everybody’s downing you. That fuels me, and it’s going to fuel our football team. We’re going to pump each other up. We’re going to hit them on the butt and say ‘let’s go,’ when they’re having a bad day we’re going to put that positive energy in there and it’s just going to spread like wildfires, our culture in the locker room.”

There’s another coach at U of L who is big on that message. Jeff Walz, Louisville’s successful women’s basketball coach, said that he knew his program’s culture had reached a high level when he had a locker room full of players and, “I never knew if one of them was having a bad day.”

Why? They showed up, did their jobs, projected a positive energy and expected maximum effort of themselves. It was contagious.

Satterfield, here, is again speaking a familiar language.

“The other thing that we talked about is the other 10,” Satterfield said. “There’s 11 guys on the football field, but I’m playing for the other 10. I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about the other 10. When you do that, we’ll have a tremendous amount of success. We had 19 guys out of our starting offensive and defensive players last year make all-conference and get recognized. . . . It’s incredible, because they’re playing for each other. They love each other, and that’s what we’re going to create here. These guys will get big-time recognition when they start loving each other, caring for each other and playing for each other.”

Now, look, I get it. These guys aren’t going to start holding hands and singing folk songs and everything be fixed.

But these guys also deserve someone who will come in and listen to them, talk with them, be honest with them and, yes, understand them.

“He told us he wants us in his office, his door is always open and he wants us to feel like we can talk to him,” wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t know if a lot of guys feel that’s how it has always been.”

So this is where it starts. How a coach handles the media or what schemes he uses doesn’t mean much if his players aren’t with him. And if they’re going to be with a coach, they have to believe he has their best interests at heart.

I don’t know that players this season believed that, particularly by the end of the season. Two team sources told me that while Bobby Petrino acknowledged to the media that he made a bad play call to help lose Louisville’s game against Florida State, the message to players in the locker room was quite different, and he might well have lost a good many of them right there. And he lost others along the way.

The program and players at Louisville need a lot of things. I haven’t heard all the stories. We may never hear them all from the season just ended. But it doesn’t hurt to have a coach who comes in and says first and foremost he wants to put his arms around them.

It may sound corny. In fact, let’s just acknowledge that it does sound corny. But this coach has made it work to the tune of 10 wins a year over the past four years at a place whose entire athletic budget ($35 million) is not too much more than what Louisville spends on football alone ($25 million, not counting facilities spending).

He may be onto something. At Louisville, we’re about to find out.

 

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