- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Like his offense, Kurt Roper prefers to go fast.
That's why it's no surprise the Florida Gators and their new offensive coordinator made such quick work of the hiring process. An interview was set up on Sunday, and just after 6 a.m. the next morning, Florida's private jet was in Raleigh-Durham International Airport to whisk Roper off to Gainesville. A few hours later he was back at home discussing everything with his family.
It didn't take much longer for both sides to agree they found the right fit.
"Well, you know, everything happens pretty fast," Roper said on Thursday from Atlanta, where he will coach Duke's offense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M on Tuesday night.
The Gators and head coach Will Muschamp are banking on Roper turning around an offense that has scuffled for four straight years ... and turning it around fast.
Roper will enter a high-profile, high-pressure situation, as Muschamp is expected to improve upon last year's 4-8 record, Florida's first losing season since 1979. Many have called Muschamp's third offensive coordinator in four years his most important hire, as the head coach is expected to be on a very hot seat in 2014.
How's that for pressure?
"The expectations are great. I understand that going in," Roper said, "and the challenge is to meet those expectations. We’re at the University of Florida that obviously has a great tradition and has met those expectations a lot in the past. I’m just looking forward to it.
"... They've won a lot of games at Florida and won a lot of championships at Florida. But like I said, it's all going that way. You know, we won 10 here at Duke this year.
How quickly he can breathe life into UF's offense remains to be seen, but Roper's success in running an uptempo offense at Duke speaks loudly.
In his second year at Duke in 2009, the Blue Devils had the nation's ninth-ranked passing offense, averaging 305 yards per game. Since then, Duke has ranked 22nd, 28th, 31st and 63rd in passing offense.
The last two seasons have been particularly strong. And fast.
In 2012, the Blue Devils ran 990 offensive plays (76.2 per game), the most in Roper's six seasons as offensive coordinator. Duke ranked No. 55 in total offense, averaging 409 yards per game. This year, Duke ran 934 plays (71.8 per game), ranking 68th in total offense (408 YPG).
Roper's confidence in himself is obvious. He calmly dispatched a question on Thursday about whether he was ready to step outside the sizable shadow of an SEC warhorse such as David Cutcliffe, who has been Duke's head coach for the last six seasons.
"No, been doing it too long," he said. "I won’t have any nerves."
Cutcliffe understands the move and certainly understands the lure of SEC football. After spending 14 of the last 15 years together, Cutcliffe is just as confident in the continued success of his understudy.
"This is an opportunity for him somewhat to be out on his own, and I think he’s looking forward to that," Cutcliffe said on Thursday. "As far as the pressures go, he’s definitively ready for that.
"He’s been in the Southeastern Conference at two institutions and understands the intensity level that’s involved in that league in football. His work ethic, that’s what that’s ultimately about. They’ll be prepared, and they’ll be prepared well."
What else can Florida expect?
"His style would be intensity, tempo and quality of repetition," Cutcliffe said. "From the minute they hit the field it's gonna be intense. I wouldn't call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination."
Roper will find a kindred spirit in the always-intense Muschamp. And there's familiarity on the field. The two squared off in the SEC West from 2001-03 while Roper was the play-caller at Ole Miss and Muschamp was defensive coordinator at LSU.
"He has obviously been a great defensive coach for a long, long time and was hard to battle against," Roper said of Muschamp. "He was always multiple and caused problems and pressures, and his guys always were physical and intense. I'm looking forward to working with Coach Muschamp."
Roper also will reunite with Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, who was offensive coordinator at Kentucky when Roper spent one season there in 2005. That year has turned out to be pivotal in Roper's coaching journey.
“That was a great year working with Joker and Coach [Rich] Brooks and that whole staff," Roper said. "I learned a lot of football and created a lot of good relationships there. But Joker, when he was offensive coordinator, wanted to install a no-huddle system so we could go in and out of huddle or no-huddle or whatnot. So really that was my first experience with it.
“Yeah, Joker and I get along great. I think he’s a heck of a football coach first, but we’re really good friends. I think he’s a good man, a great recruiter. I think he’s a guy that I’ll enjoy being around every day. And so I’m looking forward to getting back with him."
With his thoughts split between Duke and Florida, Roper has one last game to coach in Blue Devil blue -- "and be my best for these guys one last time " -- before heading down to Gainesville.
He'll dive right into film study, player evaluations and the early stages of teaching his fast-paced offense. But first Roper plans to hit the recruiting trail "as soon as I can."
What other speed would you expect?
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