Ted Roof hadn’t planned to return home, but there he was Wednesday, in the lobby of the Edge Center at Georgia Tech. Eleven seasons and four schools (technically five) since leaving Tech, Roof has returned as the Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator, the same position he left after the 2001 season.
“I’ve always tried to think about where I am and just doing the best job I can where I am,” said Roof, when asked if he had hoped to return to his alma mater. “But I love the school and this institution, and some of my best friends in the world graduated from this place, so I’m very excited about the opportunity and very thankful.”
Roof, hired in early January in the wake of interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly’s acceptance of the linebackers coaching position at Florida State, is in what he called the “100-meter sprint” to finish recruiting the Jackets’ 2013 signing class and getting a start on the prospects for 2014. National signing day is Wednesday.
Soon, Roof will have decisions to make on how he’ll align players recruited to play in a 3-4 defense into his scheme, which has used the 4-3 as its base, but will diversify itself to take on the wide range of offenses Tech will face.
“Our job as coaches is to get the best group on the field, whoever that is, however that is, whatever the position,” Roof said. “Right now, they’re just X’s. They’re not E’s or T’s or LB’s. They’re all just X’s right now.”
Roof had graduate assistants put together video clips of 10 to 12 plays of each player to help him get a feel for whom he’ll coach in the spring and next season.
“I’ve been very encouraged with what I’ve seen and just getting to know our kids,” Roof said. “They’re workers.”
Tech’s linebackers, at least, have some idea of who he is, as his picture hangs in their meeting room. Roof, a Central Gwinnett High grad, was a four-year letter-winner and a co-captain and All-ACC linebacker for the Jackets and coach Bill Curry in 1985. He coached at Tech from 1998-2001 for coach George O’Leary.
After O’Leary’s ill-fated decision to leap to Notre Dame, Roof landed at Duke, eventually becoming head coach. That was followed by a one-year stint as defensive coordinator at Minnesota in 2008, followed by three years at Auburn as coordinator, including the 2010 BCS championship season.
He left after the 2011 season to coach for O’Leary at Central Florida. On Wednesday, his reason for leaving the SEC for Conference USA was that “it was just time.” He stayed at Central Florida for one month before he jumped to Penn State to coach for Bill O’Brien, a friend and colleague at both Tech and Duke.
In his one season at Penn State, Roof helped the Nittany Lions finish second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (19.1 points per game) and first in sacks (34) in a season in which the cloud of Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky hung over the team.
Roof called it “one of the most fun years that I’ve had in coaching in my whole career” for the way the team responded to the circumstances. Still, coach Paul Johnson wasn’t surprised when Roof showed interest in the job. He was one of four people whom Johnson interviewed.
“Because I knew that he had played here and was from here and that kind of thing,” Johnson said.
Roof said the two ran into each other at the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn., in early January, about the time Kelly left for FSU. And, indeed, the lure of Tech was too strong.
With his wife, Pam, Roof wants to raise their 14-year-old twin sons, Terrence and Michael, in Georgia. Roof acknowledged the comfort he feels being back at Tech and the sweat equity that he has invested.
After interviews with news media broke up Wednesday, Roof exchanged greetings with longtime Tech staffers. Hanging just above him in the three-story atrium was the ring of plaques listing the members of Tech’s athletics hall of fame, of which Roof is an inductee.
Said Roof, “I think that it’s good to come back home now.”
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