310. That is the combined ranking of Florida’s offense under offensive coordinators Charlie Weis and Brent Pease. Under Weis they were 98th in the country, under Pease: 96th and 116th. Over the last few seasons, Florida fans have expected more and consistently been underwhelmed by an offense that has been inept on its good days most of the time.
Inept won’t cut it at Florida and everyone knows it so, in steps Kurt Roper who will take over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach as soon as his current employer, the Duke Blue Devils, finish up their bowl game against Texas A&M on New Years eve. Expectations of a national championship every year are unfair, but demanding a competent offense with all the talent and resources the Gators have to pull from is only logical. The pressure of a major program can be tough to handle for some and Roper understands that.
“Obviously, the expectations are high, and they should be,” Roper said. “They’ve won a lot of games at Florida and won a lot of championships at Florida, and so obviously the expectations are going to be high, you know, anywhere in the SEC. But like I said, it’s all going that way. You know, we won 10 here at Duke this year.”
He is no stranger to the pressure cooker that is the Southeastern Conference, in fact up until 2008 the entirety of his 10-year coaching career at that point had been spent in the SEC. It started at Tennessee, then on to Ole Miss where he tutored Eli Manning as a quarterbacks coach (beating Florida twice) then onto Kentucky where he coached with current Florida wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips then back to Tennessee. In everyone of his coaching stops except for Kentucky, he’s worked under David Cutcliffe who has either been Roper’s offensive coordinator or head coach. Roper’s soon-to-be-former boss spoke about the kind of coach Florida fans can expect to see.
“[Roper’s] style would be intensity, tempo, and quality of repetition. From the minute they hit the field it’s gonna be intense,” Cutcliffe said. “I wouldn’t call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination.”
Cutcliffe praised Roper’s attention to detail especially when training quarterbacks and his ability to get his players ready by putting them in “every circumstance they can possibly be in in a game, in practice” as a coordinator.
There was a confidence in Roper’s tone when asked one question that has plagued many fans: with so much time under Cutcliffe, is Roper nervous to leave him?
“No, been doing it too long,” Roper said. “I went to Ole Miss with him and after two years I was calling [the offense], so I did it four years there and I’ve done it all six years [at Duke]. No, I won’t have any nerves.”
Roper has a reputation as a chameleon, one who adapts his offense and his playcalls to the players he has around him, this will again be true at Florida. That may sound like a daunting task and there is still a question about how much time Roper and the rest of the coaching staff will even have to complete it. Some view this hire as a one year audition, get it right and you buy yourself another year, that doesn’t gel with conventional wisdom around offensive and defensive schemes that says it takes two years for players to feel fully immersed and understand responsibilities and verbiage fully. Roper thinks he’s got enough time through now and the end of August.
“What we’re going to do, what we’ve always done, is determine what your quarterback is good at executing and determine what your five linemen are good at executing,” Roper said. “Then through practice, you determine who has earned the right to have the football, and you try to make your decisions based on that.”
So what can fans expect from Kurt Roper? The answer remains to be seen. Folks will watch the Chick-Fil-A bowl to try and get a clue into what Roper is doing, but the cast of characters in Gainesville is much different from that in Durham, and it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to juxtapose the two. So you’ll have to wait until August 30th to truly answer that question, but one thing is a near certainty: if Roper’s new offense isn’t much better that 96th in the country, you probably shouldn’t expect another year of Roper, or anyone else on Florida’s staff for that matter.