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January 10, 2013

Defensive coordinator leaving Penn State after a year

STATE COLLEGE — Former Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof won’t forget his one season in Happy Valley.

But home is home. And after the opportunity arose quickly to take the same position at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, he said he made the difficult decision to leave the Nittany Lions and return to his native Georgia.

“That was a real privilege and special deal for me to be part of that football team,” Roof said about the 2012 Penn State season in a phone interview Thursday with The Associated Press. He called it a special year and the team a “special group of guys.”

After Roof told Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien he was leaving Wednesday morning, new defensive coordinator John Butler got a visit in his office from the boss.

“Billy came in and said, ‘I’m going to promote you to defensive coordinator,”’ said Butler, the former secondary coach, in recounting the conversation. He responded, “That’s great, thanks a lot. What do you need me to do?”

“It wasn’t like there was a surprise party associated with it,” said Butler, known for his animated histrionics on the field during games.

“You just move on.”

Roof’s departure seemed to catch most people around the program by surprise. Roof said the opportunity at Georgia Tech only surfaced about two days ago.

In a statement Wednesday, Georgia Tech said Roof’s hiring won’t become official until a background check is completed, likely next week.

Roof played for the Yellow Jackets, and was an assistant under former coach George O’Leary, as well. O’Brien was also on that Georgia Tech staff. Roof was the head coach at Duke from 2003-07, where the Blue Devils went just 6-45. O’Brien was offensive coordinator at Duke from 2005-06.

A year ago, O’Brien lured Roof to State College just weeks after Roof had taken the defensive coordinator job at Central Florida under O’Leary. He was one of O’Brien’s first hires as the new coach began shepherding the Nittany Lions through the rocky aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

At 8-4, this season turned out to be a success for O’Brien and Roof – especially given the scrutiny around the team after the NCAA handed down its sanctions over the summer.

The Nittany Lions were already known for good defense under Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and longtime defensive coordinator and Johnstown native Tom Bradley, and Roof tweaked the schemes with more blitzes and different looks. Under his watch, Penn State was second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (19.1 points), first in sacks (34) and first in red-zone defense.

He was also instrumental in opening up recruiting avenues in the South for Penn State, including the trail that led to backup quarterback Steven Bench, of Georgia.

Roof appeared to forge strong bonds with players, including senior linebacker Michael Mauti, during the stressful year. He said this team would be remembered “because of the heart and commitment that they showed and exhibited ... Everything that’s right about college football.”

When asked if there were any hard feelings in his departure, Roof quickly said “Absolutely not.”

O’Brien, in a statement Wednesday, praised Roof and wished him well: “Ted is a great coach and person. He earned the respect of our players and they enjoyed playing for him.”

Now, Butler will be Penn State’s third defensive coordinator in three years. Bradley was the defensive coordinator for 11 seasons but left after O’Brien took over.

Butler, a 19-year coaching veteran, was a linebackers coach at Minnesota in Roof’s one season there as defensive coordinator in 2008. He also coached at South Carolina, but this will be his first go-around as a coordinator.

Butler expected defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden to remain on staff. Both are well-respected position coaches and recruiters who were held over by O’Brien from the previous staff.

“There’s going to be a ton of consistency with Ron being here and Larry,” Butler said. “We’re going to put this thing together. It will be very similar to what we did in 2012.”

Butler expects to keep his secondary responsibilities as well, but likely will be limited to either just the cornerbacks or safeties.

It would still leave one opening on the Penn State staff.

The Nittany Lions will lose Mauti, Gerald Hodges, and Jordan Hill in 2013, all key defensive starters. Six starters return including defensive end Deion Barnes, middle linebacker Glenn Carson and three members of the secondary.

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