Two weeks after officially being announced as the newest Florida Gators offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper met with the media in Gainesville, FL to discuss extensively what it will take to turn around a unit that finished 112th in scoring offense (18.8 points per game) and 113rd in total offense (316.7 yards per game).
Before Roper could take the podium, head coach Will Muschamp discussed the process he went through to hire the Gators newest offensive coordinator, the third since he took over the program in 2011.
“After the season was over, obviously needed to make some improvements on the offensive side of the ball. I mean as I looked at it, I think evaluation-wise, we needed to be more tempo, we needed to create more snaps, we needed to create more space plays, continue to stay balanced, be diverse in our background moving forward. I felt like being in the [shot]gun would help some of our personnel and that’s where we’re headed. …
“I took about 12-15 teams, two to three games apiece, and just kind of started looking at people that I felt fit that mold, fit that style. Kept playing through it, formed about four or five candidates that I felt had interest in the job. Kurt Roper’s name kept coming up. I did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people, found out a lot of things looking into his background.
“Did not realize he called the plays at Ole Miss while I was at LSU as defensive coordinator. He did a fantastic job there developing Eli Manning as his quarterback. Moving onto Kentucky with Andre Woodson, did a great job. To Tennessee, then Duke with Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree, two guys playing in the National Football League right now. So the quarterback development part was there, which is critical in that position, what we’re trying to do. Play-caller part [was also there] and then the diverse background.
“Talked to a lot of guys who talked about their system. Well, you kind of go through what we went through this past year, you lose a couple guys in your system and you’re in trouble. So you’ve got to be able to shift gears and change to what fits your personnel, and I think his background speaks for itself as far as being a two-back team at Ole Miss and as he moved forward, now you’re looking at Duke and a lot of the spread principles we need to look at. So I think it’ll mix well with what we’re trying to do here at the University of Florida with our players and the development of our guys.”
A PPG TEAM
The Gators were at the bottom of the barrel last season in both scoring and total offense, but Roper made it a point to explain Monday that he is only concerned about the former – putting as many points on the scoreboard as possible.
“Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game. It’s not yards, it’s not going up and down the field. It’s how many points we can get,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re a PPG team…is what we get down to.”
Roper’s goal, one Muschamp previewed with his own comments, is to get Florida playing with tempo, speed and in space, creating “as many one-on-one tackle opportunities as you can” because those create “positive yards and positive yards keep you on the field.”
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
Moving the Gators to an up-tempo offense is not as easy as flicking a switch; it is something Roper will have to install slowly but surely with this team. Muschamp claims he will give roper “the autonomy to run the offense” and control what the offense does during practice but also noted more than once that he wants Florida to remain a balanced team that can still run the ball effectively.
Though Muschamp even providing an offensive opinion may concern some fans, he pointed out that he has not been involved in UF’s offense over the last three seasons other than to provide a philosophical direction. “I have called that many [zero] offensive plays since I have been at the University of Florida,” he quipped.
Roper is prepared to help the Gators make the transition but realizes some players will come along a lot quicker than others.
“I think there’s an adjustment period. I don’t think it’s something where the first practice they know what we’re talking about necessarily. Over time I think they’ll get to the point where they enjoy it. The skill players enjoy it probably more than the offensive linemen in the sense that sometimes it’s hard to stay in a stance,” he explained.
“Part of tempo offenses is getting lined up quickly. That’s the whole key to it. If you get lined up quickly that means you can snap the ball quickly. If you don’t get lined up quickly, then the defense knows you’re not going to snap the football. Well to get lined up quickly that means the offensive linemen have to get lined up quickly, and they’re in a difficult stance sometimes. So it’s a challenge for those guys. It’s a little bit more of an adjustment. The skill players love it because they don’t have to run back to a huddle and then run out, so it actually conserves their energy. It’s actually a good adjustment for the skill players. The linemen it’s the biggest change for because they’re in a stance.”
In the end, Roper is all about tailoring an offense to the players on the roster, which he discussed last month but reiterated on Monday.
“Our whole philosophy will be based on what the quarterback position is able to do, what the five offensive linemen are capable of doing, and then who earns the right to get the football on the field,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is installing our offense. I think our guys understand it we’re going to find some playmakers and can produce yards and produce points with what we’re going to do offensively.”
THE RIGHT TIME
Choosing to leave his mentor in Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, whom he coached under for 17 of the last 18 seasons, Roper is truly out on his own for the first time.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for me and my family to come and just get associated with a great program,” he said when asked to discuss his decision-making process. “I think this university is special. I think this football program is special. Everything that I knew about Coach Muschamp, competing against him and as a man is just another great opportunity to be associated with what I think is a heck of a football coach. So I thought it was a great opportunity for my career, number one.
“Leaving Duke was never easy. I’m a guy that hasn’t moved much in this profession. I’ve been fortunate. No, it’s not easy. My brother [tight ends coach Zac Roper] works on that staff. I had to leave him. And I got two kids that were growing up with his two kids. So none of those decisions are easy. But I think it goes to show why this is such a right decision – for me to walk away from that situation – I think this is a great opportunity.”
Roper not only chose to coach at Florida but did so knowing Muschamp is entering the season on a hot seat. He explained why that did not concern him one bit, noting that leading the Gators offense was a no-brainer of a decision for him and that 2013 was likely an aberration.
“I think every year is its own year. When we started the season last year at Duke we were picked to finish last and we won 10 ballgames,” Roper said. “My answer to that is it’s the University of Florida, one of the obvious mainstays in college football. This is a great university with a history and a lot of championships. The year before they went to the Sugar Bowl, so obviously there’s a lot of good football players on this team. I think it’s a chance to come and compete for championships.”
He also shrugged off the extremely high expectations that are put on the team, its players and the coaching staff, noting that he would not have it any other way.
“I think as a football coach when you come to a place like Florida you understand what people expect because you can look on the back of the wall here and see how many championships they’ve won,” he said. “The expectations are obviously high but that’s a good thing. That’s why you end up with good football players here because they want to come to a place where winning has happened and winning will happen again. You put a bunch of people in the seats in the stadium that will cheer them on.
“The expectations come with a lot of good things, too. The reason you can go out and get football players. I think every coach understands winning is the bottom line in this profession, no matter where you go. That’s all our goal when we get up there and go to work.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on if the process of hiring a third offensive coordinator was different from the first two attempts: “I think from a standpoint of I had a little more time. Obviously you spend a little more time looking and talking to other people. I think that would probably be it because there was a bigger timeframe than there was before just to try to get recruiting going.”
» Roper on what he has seen from Florida’s quarterbacks, specifically redshirt junior Jeff Driskel: “I haven’t watched them much yet. I guess my whole thought process is we’re going to watch guys, see where to start them and then develop my opinions through spring practice. I want to develop my opinions through meetings with guys who are handling things on and off the field the right way, with accountability and those types of things. I don’t want to develop opinions sitting and getting somebody else’s thought on a guy or watching tape and not knowing exactly what the thought process is on a guy. We’ll watch some tape and get some ideas where we want to start guys and then I want to develop those opinions on the grass. … Most of the film I’ve seen on Jeff was coming out of high school. He’s a guy that I tried to get in on early as a junior. I thought he was an outstanding talent. The thing that you see is that he’s a big guy that can move and the ball comes out of his hand well. From there I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with him in all facets of this position and we’ll learn a little bit more in the spring.”
» Roper on Cutcliffe saying he can be great if he gets to run practice the way he wants without intrusion: “I don’t really know what he was talking about there. Football practice is football practice. We’re going to get our offense prepared to play, whether we do team periods early in practice, team periods late in practice. There’s a structure to every football practice that you go to. You do it in individual work, you do it in group work and then you do it in team work. So we’ll be able to fit whatever we have to do to get our team ready to go that way.”
» Roper on if it will be tough to evaluate his players with just 15 spring practices: “No, I don’t think it’s very difficult. One thing we are is we spend a lot of time in that film room watching things over and over and over again. So you try to create as many reps as you possibly can, all on the field, whether it’s an individual rep, a group rep or a team rep, like I said, and then you watch it over and over on film. The good thing about spring is you’re not game-planning. You’re not having to get prepared to win a game on Saturday, so it is about player development, it is about player evaluation. So you have a bunch of time in spring to try to make those evaluations and learn who you have on the team and those things. And then you have another 29 practice opportunities in the fall to continue with that process. … I think coaches a lot of times, we always make things more dire than they really are. Fifteen practices are a lot of days.”
» Roper on whether he will call plays from the press box or on the field: “So every year I’ve called it – I’ve called plays for 10 years – every year I’ve called it from the press box. I don’t really foresee any change. I think you can just see a lot better. You do miss out on the communication, but they can still hear me yelling on the telephone just as much as in their face. I foresee me calling it in the press box again.”