Thursday, January 16, 2014
Will Muschamp give Roper the reins at UF?
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp stood at the podium before a gathering of media and took questions about a host of offseason subjects. After introducing his new offensive coordinator, his third in just over three years, he was asked what would be different this time.
"Offensively, schematically, we’ll be different, sure," he said.
What about your role in the offense?
"I have called that many offensive plays since I have been at the University of Florida," he said, making a zero with the thumb and fingers of his right hand.
Kurt Roper sees the offensive coordinator job at Florida as a career opportunity he couldn't pass up.
No one could blame Muschamp for wanting to distance himself from three seasons of bad offense, but it's clear the Gators' head coach still has some say in terms of philosophy.
One thing won't change. Florida will still run the ball.
"Philosophically all I've ever asked is to be balanced," Muschamp said. "I feel like you've got to be balanced in this league. We've run the ball at times extremely well. You look at a year ago we averaged right at six yards a carry on running plays, which is outstanding.
"We need to throw it better. We’ve said that all along. We need to be more efficient in throwing the football, and [we're] certainly looking forward to that progress."
So are Gators fans. In fact, any forward progress would be a good thing when it comes to Florida's passing game.
Still, there are doubters, as anyone would expect with a coach on a hot seat.
Another question that came up in Monday's news conference: Will new OC Kurt Roper have autonomy in running the offense?
"He’ll have the autonomy to run the offense and stay balanced," said Muschamp, using that "B" word again.
The question of Roper's ability to create and run his offense was put forth last week by none other than Roper's mentor, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.
"Kurt's a heck of a football coach," Cutcliffe said on CBS Sports Radio affiliate WMNL in Knoxville, Tenn. "I think a lot of it, and I've told him this, is how much leeway that they give him to conduct a practice like it should be conducted. I think that's where you win football games is out on that grass. And he knows how to do that. He knows how to get a team ready, an offensive team ready.
"Again, how much freedom he has in doing it I can't even begin to guess. I hated to lose him, but I understood it. There's a lot at play there. Just go, Kurt. But make sure you do it the way it should be done. And hopefully he'll get a chance to do that for his sake."
Roper confined his response to Cutcliffe on Monday by focusing on the literal interpretation of running practice.
"I don’t really know what he was talking about there. Football practice is football practice," he said. "We’re going to get our offense prepared to play, whether we do team periods early in practice, team periods late in practice. There’s a structure to every football practice that you go to. You do it in individual work, you do it in group work and then you do it in team work. So we’ll be able to fit whatever we have to do to get our team ready to go that way."
Make no mistake, Roper is fully aware of the pressure at Florida. It's on Muschamp, and now it's on Roper. Turning around the offense is seen as the key to turning around the Gators.
Roper comes to Gainesville with a full head of steam after 15 years as an assistant, 10 as a play-caller. He's confident, ambitious and knows he'll be viewed as a miracle worker if he can produce even a mediocre offense at Florida.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me and my family to come and just get associated with a great program," he said. "I think this university is special. I think this football program is special. Everything that I knew about Coach Muschamp, competing against him and as a man is just another great opportunity to be associated with what I think is a heck of a football coach. So I thought it was a great opportunity for my career."
Muschamp said he pored over two to three games of film on 12-15 teams in researching candidates for what is clearly a pivotal hire for his legacy.
"Kurt Roper's name kept coming up," he said.
Roper has had success in the SEC. He has spent his entire career in the South. He has a list of NFL quarterbacks on his résumé: Eli Manning, Andre' Woodson, Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree.
"So the quarterback development part was there, which is critical in that position, what we're trying to do," Muschamp said. "Play-caller part, and then the diverse background. I talked to a lot of guys who talked about their system.
"Well, you kind of go through what we went through this past year, you lose a couple guys in your system and you're in trouble. So you've got to be able to shift gears and change to what fits your personnel, and I think his background speaks for itself as far as being a two-back team at Ole Miss, and as he moved forward, now you're looking at Duke and a lot of the spread principles we need to look at. So I think it'll mix well with what we're trying to do here at the University of Florida with our players and the development of our guys."
Muschamp has hitched his wagon to Roper. The question is, will he let him drive?