By Jeff Milby —

College football is as much a game played in the mind as it is between the lines of the field. Heading into the 2017 season, football’s new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon understands that and implements it into his coaching style.

Sirmon preaches effort and intensity, saying during his introductory press conference in January, “Enthusiasm, to me, is a choice.”

That ethos has paid off for the 40-year-old. He has found success in his young career and brings an impressive resume with him to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

As a player, he spent seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round out of Oregon. Coaching since 2008, he has quickly risen from the linebackers coach at Division II Central Washington all the way to the ACC, with stops at Tennessee, Washington and USC along the way. Sirmon comes to Louisville from Mississippi State, where he was defensive coordinator last season.

Coaches don’t rise that quickly in college football without reason. Sirmon has the results to justify his ascension. In 2015, as recruiting coordinator at Southern California, Sirmon led an effort that brought in a recruiting class considered to be among the best in the nation.

Now at Louisville, he instructed his coaching staff in their first meeting together that he wants to create a culture based on enthusiasm.

“We talked about creating an environment that kids want to be around,” Sirmon said. “Our energy (as a coaching staff) … we have to pull (the players) with us.”

Coming into his first season at the defensive helm for the Cardinals, Sirmon at least one player who can match his enthusiasm. Junior cornerback and preseason All-American Jaire Alexander is known for his personality, and Sirmon says that Alexander and others who exhibit Sirmon’s desired enthusiasm will be important in lifting his team this year.

“With his talent and his enthusiasm, he keeps us going on defense,” Sirmon said of Alexander.

Talk with Sirmon about football, coaching, culture or seemingly any other topic and the word “enthusiasm” won’t be far from his lips. He says that it is all an effort to get the best out of his players. Winning isn’t just because of detailed game plans.

“How do you capture, how do you inspire people?” Sirmon said. “It’s not just X’s and O’s, it’s a lot about motivation.”

You can follow Jeff Milby on Twitter @j_milbz.

Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal