One thing Will Muschamp made very clear at his press conference on Monday was that it would be business as usual for the Florida Gators this week as they prepare to host the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Saturday.
The message has obviously been delivered to his coordinators, as both Kurt Roper (offensive) and D.J. Durkin (defensive) explained this week that they are focused on the game and the game alone.
“To be honest with you, it hasn’t really been any different because we got a game at the end of the week. Obviously we had a couple meetings that were telling us what the situation was and those aren’t easy, but then Saturday you have to be ready to go. So we’ve been in the room just like normal trying to figure out a plan to put together to win a football game and be prepared,” said Roper. “We still need to be prepared. Nothing has been difference since Sunday at noon or whatever time it was.”
Added Durkin: “It’s as normal as it can be. Our guys know that, our routine, we’ve been doing it for a while here. We had a good practice [Tuesday]; they were out there, did a nice job. I expect the same from them [Wednesday], and I expect them to be prepared and go play on Saturday.”
Roper and Durkin are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their careers at Florida.
The offensive coordinator was hired this offseason as a replacement for Brent Pease. He was Muschamp’s third hire at the position for the Gators after Charlie Weis proved not to be worth his high price tag in 2011 and left for a head coaching gig at Kansas, which he was fired from earlier this season.
Roper gave up a lot to leave Duke and his mentor, David Cutcliffe, for Florida, especially considering Muschamp entered the 2014 campaign already on the hot seat. Yet in the face of all that, he does not have any regrets about his decision.
“I haven’t had any second thoughts at all. … I thought this was a great opportunity. It’s a great place. I’d have liked to have won more games and think we could’ve won more games and had some opportunities to win more games, but it’s the chosen profession,” he said.
“No. I don’t have any regrets at all,” he added later. “I still think this is a great place, number one, a place you can obviously win at a high level and get good football players here. I thought it was a great opportunity and loved every second of it.”
Roper also stood up for Muschamp in the face of questions about the offense, admitting that it was a group decision to play more conservative football after supposedly figuring out the unit’s identity in the Georgia game. Florida was looking to “make a push and run the table” but ultimately the responsibility falls on all parties on that side of the ball, not just Muschamp, he said.
“[Muschamp handcuffing the offense is] not true. Not true. In my experience, absolutely none of it is true,” Roper began. “When we got here, it was, ‘Do it how you best see fit.’ He doesn’t call plays. We obviously talk about situations like the end of that game, ‘Do we want to be aggressive or do we want to take the timeout and use the time?’ I’m 100 percent on board with any of those decisions that are made. But as far as calling plays, absolutely not; he’s been great.”
Durkin was actually hired as a special teams coordinator by Urban Meyer in 2010 after spending three years in the same role at Stanford. Considered an up-and-coming talent, Durkin was retained by Muschamp when Meyer left and actually promoted to defensive coordinator in 2013 when Dan Quinn moved up to the NFL to take over the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.
Muschamp made Durkin’s transition between the staffs easy, but the young coordinator is now faced with yet another change and is not sure whether he will be asked to remain in Gainesville, Florida, though he appears to hope that he will get that opportunity.
“This is a great place. I’ve spent five years here and loved every minute of it. Obviously it’s a good place to be. There’s not many better,” Durkin said. “[Staying here is out of my control.] You control the controllables and none of that stuff is within my control. Unfortunately, it’s part of the profession that these things happen. You just keep moving on, doing the best you can with whatever job you have and hopefully that serves you well to create opportunities down the road.”
Where the stories of Roper and Durkin merge is at Muschamp with both coordinators going above and beyond to praise their boss despite the fact that he will be dismissed from his position at the end of the season.
“I’ll say this: working for Will Muschamp is unbelievable. Everything you’re hearing about him is not just people blowing smoke. That is a good person, number one, and I learned a lot of football from him – I really did, I learned a lot of things,” Roper said. “It’s been a great experience.”
Added Durkin: “Couldn’t ask for a better guy to work for than Will. It was great to be able to stay [with the Gators] and those sorts of things, but every change brings on different things and different people involved. You roll with it and adapt and keep going.”
Adapt is exactly what Florida will be looking to do on Saturday when players in their final year with the program celebrate Senior Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Eastern Kentucky game will be Muschamp’s last – for the foreseeable future – that he gets to coach in the venue he visited as a fan for so many years, and it may also be the final time that either Roper or Durkin step foot on the field.