Roper to remain with Blue Devil staff through bowl game
Kurt Roper and David Cutcliffe have worked together for most of the last 17 football seasons, including the last six raising Duke’s program from shambles to consecutive bowl games.
Roper, though, has decided to cast his lot in the familiar surroundings of the Southeastern Conference next season.
Duke’s quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller since 2008, Roper was hired Thursday by the University of Florida as its new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Roper will remain on the Blue Devils staff through the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Texas A&M on Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN) before beginning work for the Gators.
“Kurt and I have been together a long time,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m very appreciative of all his contributions, whether it was at Tennessee, Ole Miss and certainly at Duke. It’s been an enjoyable professional relationship and a friendship. He’s done a good job of being a very hard worker. He’s been very loyal. We wish him luck as he moves forward in this direction in his career.”
Roper began working on the same staff as Cutcliffe as a Tennessee graduate assistant in 1996. In 1998, he went to Mississippi when Cutcliffe became the Rebels head coach.
In Durham, they helped Duke reach its first bowl game since 1994 last season. This season, the Blue Devils (10-3) have set a school record for most wins in a season while also winning the ACC’s Coastal Division for the first time.
“This is an opportunity for him to be out on his own,” Cutcliffe said.
Florida flew Roper to Gainesville, Fla., for an interview last Monday and he accepted the position on Christmas Eve.
“He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said Thursday in a statement released by the school. “The most important thing though, is he has always remained balanced.”
The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun reported that Roper will make a $600,000 salary at Florida.
“It was the right situation at the right time for me and my family,” Roper said. “Coach Muschamp is real excited about the future there, really excited about the talent level there.”
Florida is coming off its first losing season since 1979. The Gators went 4-8 leading Muschamp to fire offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis.
The Gators haven’t finished better than 100th nationally in total offense in the last three seasons.
Another losing season could cost Muschamp his job. But Roper has no problems with that sort of situation.
“Everywhere you go is a challenge,” Roper said. “It doesn’t matter who you are coaching with. I don’t have any limitations or preconceived notions. I’m going down there to win games and win championships. Obviously, expectations are high and they should be. They have won a lot of games and a lot of championships at Florida.”
Roper said his focus will be solely on Duke until after the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“I’ve got a week to focus on and be my best for these guys one last time,” Roper said.
As for what Duke will do to replace Roper after the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Cutcliffe said he won’t be doing any work to address that until after the bowl game.
“I will not address any of that until I get back to Durham,” Cutcliffe said. “At that point in time we will start making decisions with regards to any staff changes or hires.”
That said, Scottie Montgomery figures to play a larger role in Duke’s offense going forward. A former star receiver and assistant coach at Duke, Montgomery coached wide receivers for three seasons with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers before returning to Cutcliffe’s staff last February.
Montgomery’s title is associate head coach/offensive coordinator-passing game coordinator. Roper called the plays this season, but Montgomery has been important to Duke as well.
Duncan, RB picture
The Blue Devils practiced Thursday for the first time since leading rusher Jela Duncan was suspended by Duke for an academic policy violation.
The sophomore from Charlotte won’t be eligible to return to school until January 2015.
Cutcliffe said he remains in contact with Duncan, who has given every indication he plans to return to Duke rather than transfer to another school.
“Jela is going to be onboard,” Cutcliffe said. “This is time he will use well. I have 1,000 percent confidence in him that he will us this time well. He is part of our family.”
Duke will play the Chick-fil-A Bowl with senior Juwan Thompson, redshirt junior Josh Snead and sophomore Shaquille Powell as its running backs.
Cutcliffe said Powell was injured in the 45-7 loss to No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game on Dec. 7 but has improved physically.