Florida is turning to Duke’s Kurt Roper to improve the Southeastern Conference’s worst offense.
Coach Will Muschamp is counting on Roper’s previous success in the league and his experience with an up-tempo scheme to get it done.
Muschamp announced Roper’s hire Thursday, three days after he agreed to take the job.
”He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best,” Muschamp said. ”The most important thing, though, is he has always remained balanced. He has had success calling plays in the SEC and has tutored three NFL quarterbacks. He has had players produce at every offensive position and he is one of the most well-respected coaches in the country.”
Roper is leaving the same position at Duke. He also was an assistant head coach with the Blue Devils.
Roper spent hours interviewing for the job with Muschamp on Monday. He will remain with Duke through the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Tuesday night.
”I feel like this was the right situation for me and my family at the right time,” Roper said on a conference call with reporters. ”It’s obviously a great university that has a great tradition, and I look forward to trying to add to that.”
The Gators (4-8) are coming off their first losing season since 1979. Muschamp wants to overhaul the offense after three consecutive years ranked worse than 100th nationally in total yards. Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis less than 24 hours after the season ended.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Roper’s coaching style includes ”intensity, tempo and quality of repetition.”
”From the minute they hit the field, it’s going to be intense,” Cutcliffe said. ”I wouldn’t call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination. It’s going to be what we call treat the ground like a hot stove. If you hit the ground, you better get up running. And you know by the time they get on the field until they get off, they’re going to be moving and getting a bunch of quality reps so I would call it very intense.”
An 18-year coaching veteran, Roper spent six seasons as Duke’s offensive coordinator. He has 14 years of experience coaching quarterbacks, including working with NFL quarterbacks Eli Manning (New York Giants), Sean Renfree (Atlanta Falcons) and Thaddeus Lewis (Buffalo Bills).
He inherits an offense that features mobile quarterback Jeff Driskel and plenty of running back depth but also includes a woeful offensive line and few playmakers on the perimeter.
”I think the biggest thing is you got to find out the strengths of your quarterback and the strengths of your offensive line,” Roper said. ”Once you find those strengths, then you can start putting together what you’re going to start hanging your hat on offensively. Then the other five players you have to find out who can make something happen with the football. If it’s running backs, if it’s tight end or if it’s wide receivers, then you try to find the way to get those guys the football and you create personnel or formations based on that.
”I think there’s a reason for tempo in games that obviously causes defenses problems, but we’ll never sacrifice tempo over execution. We want to play fast, but we want to play smart and take care of the football and those types of things.”
Muschamp’s next offensive coordinator had been considered the most important hire in his tenure, a choice that surely will impact whether the head coach sticks around beyond 2014.
If Florida doesn’t show significant improvement in Muschamp’s fourth year — he is 22-16 through three seasons — athletic director Jeremy Foley almost certainly will clean house.
Roper followed Cutcliffe to Duke in 2008 from Tennessee and helped rebuild the Blue Devils from one of the nation’s worst power-conference programs to the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
Roper was a finalist this year for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. The offensive coordinator helped the 22nd-ranked Blue Devils (10-3) set a school record for wins.
Before joining Duke, Roper coached at three SEC schools: Tennessee (2006-07), Kentucky (2005) and Mississippi with Cutcliffe (1999-2004). He coached quarterbacks at Kentucky and Ole Miss, and running backs at Tennessee before arriving in Durham, N.C.
So he has SEC experience and knows what he’s getting into in Gainesville.
”Obviously, the expectations are great,” Roper said. ”I understand that going in, and the challenge is to meet those expectations. We’re at the University of Florida, which obviously has a great tradition and has met those expectations a lot in the past. I’m just looking forward to it.”