- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Of the eight assistant coaches Bill O'Brien has named to his staff at Penn State, no hire has sparked more debate among Nittany Nation than defensive coordinator Ted Roof. He spent the past three seasons at Auburn, winning a national title in 2010 but finishing no higher than 60th nationally in total defense. After facing scrutiny this past season, Roof left for a position on Central Florida's staff before joining O'Brien, one of his former ACC colleagues, at Penn State. Roof has an interesting résumé, highlighted by a successful run as Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator and a solid season as Minnesota's defensive coordinator in 2008. But he also went 6-45 as Duke's head coach between 2003-07 (O'Brien served as the Blue Devils' offensive coordinator in 2005 and 2006).
Roof takes over for longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who guided the Nittany Lions following Joe Paterno's firing in November. He'll work alongside two assistants retained from the previous staff -- defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden -- as well as defensive backs coach John Butler, who Roof worked with at Minnesota.
ESPN.com recently caught up with Roof. Here are his thoughts on his new gig.
Why Penn State? Why did this job make sense for you?
Ted Roof: It started with Bill O'Brien. This is the third stop that we've worked together [Georgia Tech, Duke]. He's a very strong leader, he's passionate about what he does, he's high-energy, and I know that he's going to be successful. And it's hard to say no to Penn State. To me, Penn State is one of those 'wow' places. There's only a handful of them in the country. When you're there, the facilities are unbelievable. The people are very welcoming. It's an outstanding university with a huge alumni network. It's something I don't think you can say no to.
What do you know about Bill that a lot of people don't? How do you think he'll fare in a head-coaching position?
Roof: He's very organized. He has a very detailed and thorough plan for every aspect of the program. He was in college football for a while, and then to be in the NFL the last five years working in [the New England Patriots] organization for a guy like Bill Belichick, I know he's enjoyed that experience. He relates to players well. He's going to be a disciplinarian, because he knows we're going to do things the right way. At the same time, football at the highest level and a meaningful academic, collegiate experience, they can coexist. You don't have to settle for one or the other. The values of what he's about align with the values of Penn State. It matched up.
What has been your impression of Penn State from the outside as someone who has worked in college football for a long time?
Roof: The success both on and off the field. The number of football games they won and the way they won, and at the same time, the graduation rates and what their players do after they graduate. It's really, really classy, and it's a great combination of the best of both worlds: the best academically, and the best also on the football field.
What type of defense do you want to play?
Roof: Multiply aggressive. Here's what I think we've got to do: evaluate who our players are, what their strengths are and then ask them to do that -- not stuff a square peg into a round hole. I do know that in order to be great, we're going to have to stop the run, we're going to have to affect the quarterback, and we're going to have to defend the deep ball. If we can do those three things, we're going to be real successful.
Coach O'Brien kept coach Johnson and coach Vanderlinden on staff. Do you know them? What has it been like being in touch with them?
Roof: The transition has been great. Those guys are both highly respected in this profession, both good men. It's been real good. They've helped during this transition for the new guys coming on board to kind of catch us up and indoctrinate us into Penn State and give us their vantage point and perspective on what Penn State stands for and what it's all about. They've both been extremely helpful. They have awful good reputations, and I'm looking forward to working with them.
You worked with coach Butler at Minnesota. Was that a big factor in him coming to Penn State?
Roof: Coach O'Brien hired guys that he either worked with before, guys that had Penn State ties or guys that were native Pennsylvanians. I certainly was familiar with John after working with him for a year. I have a lot of respect for the job he did. He's a relentless recruiter, a relentless recruiter and a heck of a football coach. I'm looking forward to reuniting with him and moving forward.
Penn State has played defense a certain way for a lot of years. How do you blend the way they've done things with what you do, or are there a lot of parallels?
Roof: They've played really good defense for a long time, and the previous staff did a wonderful job. Everybody in college football respects what they've done. At the same time, I don't know exactly what they've done. All I know is it's worked. We've got to evaluate who we've got on our defensive squad right now and put them in positions, always under the mantra of being multiply aggressive.
Have you had a chance to look at the personnel yet?
Roof: Not as much as we're going to, but I've watched some of it. We've got to get into more of getting to know our current players, and also finishing up this recruiting class and starting the next one.
What types of players are you looking for as you're out recruiting?
Roof: Guys who will be great fits at Penn State, guys that want to do things the right way, guys that understand the value of a degree, and at the same time doing what's right in our system. In the back end and at linebacker, we want guys that can run, want guys that are tenacious, and want guys that can change direction and make plays in space. And up front, we want guys that can turn the corner and attack the quarterback, and guys inside that can push the pocket and hold the point, and be productive in the run game.
You've coached in the Big Ten, the ACC and the SEC. Do you draw much on your Big Ten experience at Minnesota?
Roof: It's a great conference. There's so much tradition in this conference and pageantry. It's a good conference to be a part of. College football changes so much and so quickly. It's certainly changed since I was in the Big Ten in 2008. I've got to study it as we move forward, and go from there.
What type of challenge does this situation at Penn State present after what's happened the past few months?
Roof: I think there are great opportunities here. We're following a legendary coach at a legendary institution. So it's a great opportunity, and we're just excited about moving forward.
What's your message to the players?
Roof: I met with them the first week I was there and right now, it's all about getting to know each other, understanding the expectation level, and working to take the next step. That's what we've got to do, because the standard at Penn State is extremely high.