UCF beat writer Paul Tenorio takes a look at UCF's spring football program.

In the final seconds of UCF's Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor, it was Tyson Summers who got a Gatorade bath on the sideline.

Summers, the linebackers coach with the Knights the last two seasons, had stepped into the defensive coordinator role after the departure of former coordinator Jim Fleming. His debut went pretty well. UCF largely limited the high-flying Baylor offense en route to the biggest win in program history.

Earlier this spring, when Paul Ferraro left the program due to personal reasons, UCF head coach George O'Leary named Summers the interim defensive coordinator. He is likely to step into the role permanently after the spring. 

After the first few days of practice, Summers sat down to talk about the promotion and his vision for the spring:

What does it mean to you to get this opportunity to run the defense?

I think the biggest opportunity is hoping that you can continue what they’ve been able to do here for the last 10 years defensive, which is outstanding. Being able to take all the things Coach O’Leary has instilled in our program, it’s obviously a great opportunity, because the defense that we play and Coach O’Leary’s mentality as a defensive coach gives us an opportunity to be successful right from the get-go. The opportunity to work with the linebackers still is a huge importance to me, as well.

You got a taste of the job going into the Fiesta Bowl. How valuable was that experience now as you move into the spring season in the new role?

I think it was an invaluable experience, obviously. The most important part of it was not necessarily the game but the preparation in the lead up to it. The comfort level now that the kids and the staff has with how we’re going to do things and the mentality we’ve got to have and the importance of things. That part of it is a huge factor.

As a young coach, how much value do you see in running the defense under a coach who has been a defensive coach for four-plus decades? How much do you lean on that experience?

He’s been really good, and I think if you were in this position at any point in time and you don’t use his experience and you don’t use his knowledge than you’re shooting yourself in the foot. He’s obviously been a great defensive coach at all levels – as a high school coach, then on in college being as successful as you can possibly be at Georgia Tech and then went on to the pros two different times – so I think his knowledge and the foundation he has in the overall structure of the program, all those things give you a chance to be successful, particularly defensively.

You’re expected to get a big influx of talent this summer – two defensive tackles, a JUCO linebacker, four top-end defensive back recruits – that will change the depth chart. So what is the major aim this spring with the players who are here? What are you looking for out of this group?

I think we’ve talked about our goals, and our goals arent necessarily things you see on statistics, our goals are to get better and improve on the things we should’ve done better last year. For us, that starts with communication. Secondly, I feel like we’ve got to be able to improve on third downs and we’ve got to be able to get more takeaways. When we talk about the things we need to improve each day,  we feel like the communication will help on all those aspects and we’ll be able to limit explosive plays from the offense. If we can do those things, we’ll improve greatly.

Coach O’Leary talks about strength up the middle. How much responsibility are you placing on guys like Terrance Plummer, Clayton Geathers, Brandon Alexander to be the leaders again this year?

I think for us the value of what’s up the middle is the leadership when you talk about the two safeties and you talk about the middle linebacker. … A lot of the plays we have to get better at, particularly in the run game, comes [up the middle] and we’ve got to improve that. The leadership part should certainly be there and we’ve got to see more of that, too, from the two defensive tackles.

It had to have been exciting at this point in your career when you got the news you’d move into that defensive coordinator role.

Ever since we got here two years ago, it’s been a blessing. The opportunity to work for coach, the opportunity to work with the rest of the staff, the structure we have here and the players we have here, every bit of it has been a blessing. Obviously we’ve had two good seasons, two 10-win seasons or better, and now it’s just trying to build and be better than we were last year and to build on the legacy the defense has had here the last 10 years.


E-mail Paul Tenorio at ptenorio@orlandosentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @OSKnights.