Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Kurt Roper knows better than to get too comfortable in his new — and perhaps temporary — position.
As the son of a former college football coach, and being a part of the profession himself for the past 22 years, Roper knows that change is one of the few constants in the business.
So, when Colorado athletic director Rick George made the decision to fire head coach Mike MacIntyre on Sunday and promote Roper, CU’s first-year quarterbacks coach, to the interim job, Roper took it in stride.
Regardless of the job title or anything else around him, Roper has always believed the best approach is to realize the game is still the same.
It’s been an emotional week for the Buffs, but Roper’s message to the team is that his job — and theirs — isn’t any different than it’s been all season. On Saturday, the Buffs (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) will travel to Berkeley, Calif., to try to win a football game.
“To me, it’s really simplistic,” Roper said. “We want to focus on Cal.”
For now, there’s really no point in Roper looking beyond Saturday’s game against the Golden Bears (6-4, 3-4) because, in a way, he is like a substitute teacher. He’s filling MacIntyre’s shoes this week and keeping the seat warm for whomever George hires as a full-time replacement.
Roper’s 10-year-old daughter, Reese, knows the drill. Hired at CU in January, Roper has worked for eight teams in eight different states since 2004. This is his fifth different job in the last six football seasons.
In North Carolina this week for Thanksgiving break, Reese, a fifth-grader who has already been in five different schools, texted her father to let him know she loved him and was thinking about him.
“I said, ‘Well, how are you doing?'” Roper said. “She said, ‘I handled it well.'”
Reese is already aware that by next football season, she could be attending yet another school.
That’s a concern for later, though. This week, Roper is tackling a new challenge. For the first time in his career, he is in a head coaching role.
“Oh yeah, I’m excited,” he said.
While this role may not last long, Roper has spent a lifetime preparing for it.
Roper’s father, Bobby, was a longtime defensive coach in college football. Among his many jobs was a stint as the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he helped the Panthers, guided by legendary head coach Johnny Majors, win a national title in 1976.
Throughout their childhood, Roper and his brothers, Dan and Zac — the offensive coordinator at Duke — learned about the game. Roper knew at a young age what he wanted to do with his life.
“I became a coach because my dad was a football coach,” Roper said. “I wanted to be like him.”
Roper didn’t waste much time. He played quarterback and defensive back at Rice from 1992-94, and almost immediately jumped into the coaching world when he was done playing. In 1999, at age 27, he became the quarterbacks coach at Ole Miss, where he mentored a young prospect named Eli Manning.
At Ole Miss, Roper worked with MacIntyre, who was also an assistant on those teams. Their coaching careers took them in different directions over the years, but they have remained friends. Last winter, MacIntyre was looking for a quarterbacks coach and Roper was looking for work.
It didn’t take long for Roper to make an impact on Steven Montez, CU’s junior quarterback. Montez wasn’t surprised that Roper was given the interim tag this week.
“I feel like every time Roper does something, he impresses me more and more,” Montez said. “A lot of the players in the room already have a ton of respect for him. He continues to impress me with how he handles these situations. He’s level headed and problem solves. He’s a huge problem solver. He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around.”
Whether or not Montez gets another year with Roper remains to be seen.
If George hires a head coach from the outside, there’s no guarantee that coach will keep Roper or any of the other current assistants.
Roper could very well be a candidate for the permanent job, but he insists he’s been too focused on trying to beat Cal to worry about his own future.
“I haven’t even thought about it, really at all,” Roper said. “(George) asked me to really hold down the fort for a week and that’s really the way I see it. The focus has been: what do we need to try to get ready to win a game? I’m trying not to get outside of that, because I’d like to help this team go to a bowl game.”
That perspective, ultimately, makes this week no different than any other in Roper’s career. He’s gone into every game he’s ever coached with the goal to win, and while his role has suddenly changed and his future is uncertain, his goal hasn’t changed.
After, it’s still just football
“It’s not that difficult (to focus on the game) really,” he said. “We’re really just doing what we do.”