DURHAM, N.C. – Headlined by the promotion of Zac Roper to Baxter Family Associate Head Coach and offensive coordinator, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe announced on Friday changes to the Blue Devil football staff.
As Duke’s primary offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach, Roper replaces Scottie Montgomery, who accepted the head coaching position at East Carolina University last month.
Roper, who joined Cutcliffe at Duke prior to the 2008 season, has served as the program’s special teams coordinator for the past three seasons while coaching the tight ends. From 2008-12, he mentored Duke’s running backs while assisting coordinator Ron Middleton with the special teams units.
“We felt like we had the guy in Zac Roper,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve all seen what he’s done with our special teams, but we have a guy that has across the board coached defense, he’s coached a multitude of positions offensively, he’s run our special teams. People don’t understand that a special teams coach is the closest thing you’re going to have to a head coach; he’s done an incredible job with that. Functionally, I don’t think we could find a better football coach. I also know that his value system is in place. Zac Roper is a great husband; he’s a great dad. I’m really excited about where we are in this process, and now we’ll have to do another hire because we’re adjusting things on the inside.”
At Duke, Roper has mentored five All-America selections in kickers Ross Martin and Will Snyderwine, punter WillMonday and return specialists Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards. In addition, Roper has coached six Blue Devil running backs (Re’quan Boyette, Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Desmond Scott, Josh Snead & Juwan Thompson) who eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground in their respective careers as well as tight ends Braxton Deaver, who was an All-ACC choice in 2013 after catching 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns, and David Reeves, who is the only player in Duke history with touchdown receptions in multiple bowl games.
Prior to his stint in Durham, Roper worked on coaching staffs at Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Cornell and holds both undergraduate (2001; political science) and graduate (2003; higher education/student personnel) degrees from Ole Miss. Roper’s older brother, Kurt, served as Duke’s offensive coordinator from 2008-13 and currently is the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of South Carolina.
“It’s an exciting time for my family,” Zac Roper said. “I come from a football family. Obviously, my dad and my mom were certainly excited for what the future entails. I had a chance to talk with both of my brothers. It’s an exciting time in the Roper family, and I certainly look forward to this opportunity being the Baxter Family Associate Head Coach, along with the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. I look forward to scoring some points for the Duke Blue Devils.
“Personally, it gives me an opportunity to delve into the offense with the guys,” he continued. “I think that’s the most important thing about coaching; the relationship that you have with the players. That’s what I want to see going forward, is continuing to build those relationships with all of the guys. That’s what’s most exciting; seeing the development of a young Duke football player’s progression. That’s what we’re excited about. We want to win games, but the best thing about coaching is the relationship you build with the players.”
The Duke offense will return six starters from last year’s unit that averaged 439.4 yards and 31.5 points per contest as the Blue Devils went 8-5 and defeated Indiana, 44-41 in overtime, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Duke currently ranks third in the ACC in both total first downs (310) and total offensive yards per game while ranking among the nation’s leaders in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (6th), total first downs (24th), fewest sacks allowed per game (27th), third down conversion percentage (33rd), total offensive yards per game (36th), rushing yards per game (37th), passing yards per game (45th) and scoring offense (48th).
The 439.4 total yards per game average posted this past year marks the fourth highest single-season mark in Duke history while the Blue Devils have put together a stretch of four consecutive seasons averaging 30-plus points per contest for the first time in school history. Duke’s combined offensive scoring balance over the past four seasons has yielded 189 total touchdowns – 95 on the ground and 94 through the air.
Quarterback Thomas Sirk, a rising redshirt senior who started 12 games in 2015, returns to the fold after completing 251-of-427 (.588) passes for 2,625 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Glen St. Mary, Fla., native also led the Blue Devils in rushing with 803 yards and eight touchdowns. Sirk, who earned co-MVP honors of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl along with running back Shaun Wilson after totaling 318 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Indiana, set the school single-season record for rushing yardage by a quarterback while his 3,428 total offensive yards marked the second highest single-season total in school history, trailing only Anthony Dilweg’s total of 3,713 yards in 1988.
Three other scholarship quarterbacks return in 2016 including redshirt junior Parker Boehme, redshirt freshman Quentin Harris and redshirt freshman Daniel Jones. Boehme saw action in 10 games last fall and completed 43-of-78 (.551) passes for 579 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 181 yards and five scores. Boehme made one start under center in place of the injured Sirk, and completed 23-of-42 passes for 248 yards with one interception while rushing 11 times for 80 yards and one touchdown in a 31-13 loss to Pittsburgh on November 14.
Joining Sirk as returning starters in 2016 are redshirt senior tackle Casey Blaser (started all 13 games in 2015; HM All-ACC selection), redshirt junior Gabe Brandner (started all 13 games), redshirt senior wide receiver Anthony Nash (32 receptions, 475 yards, 1 TD), sophomore wide receiver T.J. Rahming (43 receptions, 571 yards, 2 TDs) and redshirt senior guard Tanner Stone (started all 13 games). Additionally, running backs Jela Duncan (67 attempts, 460 yards, 4 TDs) and Wilson (84 attempts, 424 yards, 3 TDs) return.
In addition, Cutcliffe announced that James Harrell, a member of the Duke staff since 2013 as Player Personnel Coordinator, elevates to Assistant Director of Player Personnel to replace Ethan Johnson, who joined Montgomery’s staff at East Carolina. Former Blue Devil letterman Lex Butler, who has worked in the Duke Football sports performance realm since graduating in 2013, moves into the slot vacated by Harrell.