Dooley: Roper will have to repair offense in spotlight
Published: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.
The phone rang early Christmas morning. Early if you had too much egg nog the night before, but not early for a child wondering what Santa had left behind.
The voice on the other end was vintage and classic.
“The last time Florida hired the offensive coordinator at Duke was 24 years ago,” Steve Spurrier said. “You tell the new guy he has to score in the first two minutes of the first game like we did.”
It was much different when Florida hired Spurrier and introduced him to the media 24 years ago this New Year's Eve. He was the prodigal son and he was coming back to be the head coach. As the offensive coordinator for the Gators, he had a luxury that Kurt Roper doesn't have.
Nobody could tell the head ball coach, “No.”
Whether he was going for it from his own 1-yard line on fourth down or punting on third down, it was his show.
For Roper, well, that's the big question isn't it?
Will Muschamp has made the most important hire of his career, and it is a coach many of you had never heard of a month ago. Home-run hire? Hardly. Charlie Weis and Brent Pease were home-run hires and neither one even had warning-track power.
Roper makes sense for what Muschamp wants to do in next year's pivotal season. Now it's time for the head coach to get out of his way and let him do it.
There are going to be conflicts because Roper is almost as intense as Muschamp, which would put him somewhere between a white-hot star and a European soccer fanbase.
“I wouldn't call him a laid-back coach by any stretch of the imagination,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He's pretty intense.”
There are no guarantees that Roper is the right choice. This wasn't the most attractive job in the world because of the uncertainty — whether perceived or real — about his future. Some candidates were eliminated because they found better jobs (Blake Anderson at Arkansas State) and some because they didn't have the right answers in interviews.
Certainly, what Roper and the Duke coaches did in Durham was remarkable this year. The number that matters to me the most is 10, as in wins, because Duke isn't supposed to win 10 games in football.
But what I want to look at are the games against the best opponents and when you play in the ACC and don't play anyone out of conference (Jeff Sagarin rated the Duke schedule 62nd in the nation), big games are few and far between.
The Dukies beat Virginia Tech, which was ranked 16th at the time, but scored only 13 points. They beat 24th-ranked Miami and scored 48 points and as bad as Miami's defense is, that was still impressive. They scored 27 against archrival North Carolina in a big win. They scored seven — the same as Florida — against powerful FSU.
None of this should make you feel any better or any worse about the hire. The SEC is a different animal despite a rare sub-par year for the league's defenses that was caused, I believe, by a rare surplus of veteran, talented quarterbacks in the league (most of whom will be gone).
Still, Roper will face five of this year's top 26 teams in total defense next season. He will have to go to Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee and try to figure out a way to score points.
“Everything's covered (with Roper),” said Cutcliffe. “One of (Florida's) great strengths is they will be well prepared coming out of practice.”
Roper will run the offense Muschamp is looking for, one that takes advantage of a quarterback with legs and spreads out the defense, but this isn't about Xs and Os as much as it is about developing stars.
If Florida is going to crawl out of the pit of despair it sunk into this season and rejoin the contenders, the offense has to find some playmakers. And Roper, considered a quarterback guru, especially has to help turn Jeff Driskel into the player many of us believe he can be.
And he'll have to do it under one of the brightest glares in college football.
“Obviously, expectations are high at Florida,” Roper said Thursday. “They should be. They've won a lot of games at Florida.”
It's quite simple for Roper — take an offense that has been a dumpster fire and turn it into an after-picture. It doesn't have to be a beauty queen, but it can't be so ugly you have to sell it on its personality.
Developing offensive players has been a weak spot for the last three years. Instead of scratching our heads when it comes time to vote for All-SEC performers from Florida on offense at the end of the year, we should have more options than positions.
That's what happened the last time Florida hired an offensive coordinator from Duke.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.