Building from Roof down

ATLANTA - Ted Roof knew what he was getting into.

It wasn't a shock by any stretch.

When the Central Gwinnett graduate took over as head coach of the Duke football program in 2003, he understood what he was up against. The Blue Devils were the perennial doormats of the ACC, they hadn't been to a bowl game since 1994, and they had the toughest time of any school in the conference in recruiting high-profile talent.

It's not that Duke isn't able to get plenty of five-star athletes on its campus. It's just that they belong to Mike Krzyzewski, not Ted Roof.

So with that in mind, Roof set out to change the culture and the mindset of the Duke football program.

"Before the results change on the football field, you've got to get the locker room right," Roof told the Atlanta Touchdown Club at a Monday luncheon. "The locker room - that's the foundation of a football program."

So far for Roof, it's been a slow process in building that foundation.

Duke is 0-3 this season, including a 13-0 home loss to Richmond, and is just 5-25 in his tenure at the school.

His team bounced back from the shutout loss to Richmond to outplay undefeated Wake Forest on the road the following week. But the Demon Deacons scored late to take the lead and then the Blue Devils had a potential game-winning field goal blocked as time expired.

It might have looked like a moral victory for his program, but to Roof a loss is still a loss - or as Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden once said, "A moral victory is like a 6-foot man drowning in three feet of water. He's still dead."

Said Roof: "We've made a lot of strides, but you play the game to win. And that's the way you should play it, and we haven't done enough of that."

Anyone who saw Roof play at Central Gwinnett High School in the early 1980s understands that passion for winning. A fiery linebacker, Roof was a field general for the Black Knights and he always seemed to be in the right spot to make the tackle.

And when he hit you, you stayed hit.

"Ted was probably the hardest hitting person I ever coached," said longtime Central head coach Tally Johnson, who is currently the Black Knights' athletic director.

He then tells a story to illustrate his point.

"We were out one day at practice, it was either Ted's junior or senior year, and we were having a scrimmage," Johnson said. "We ran a play and he hit our first-team tailback and broke two of his ribs. Then we run the play again and he hits the next tailback and knocked him out with a separated shoulder.

"So I told him he couldn't practice anymore. I called his dad that night and I said, 'Terry, you might want to get Ted to transfer to another school because he can't practice with us anymore.' He said, 'Coach, what happened? What's the matter. He's not in trouble is he?' I just said we can't allow him to practice anymore. I'll let him go down there and practice on a telephone pole, but he can't hit our kids anymore. And from that day forward he became the only defensive player we ever had to wear a red shirt. He wasn't allowed to hit."

It was during his high school days of terrorizing opponents - and his own teammates - that Roof became intrigued at the prospect of coaching football.

"I knew in high school this is what I wanted to do," he said. "I was fortunate enough to play for Tally Johnson, who was a great coach and a great man ... and he was just a very special guy. And a lot of the other coaches on his staff and the impact they had on my life, I knew it something I wanted to do. Just having a chance to do that and being a competitive guy and seeing kids grow and mature - I knew I wanted to do that in high school."

He made it a reality after college.

"If I couldn't play, I wanted to do the next best thing," said Roof, who starred on the Georgia Tech defense and is still the seventh-leading tackler in school history.

So he began coaching.

First as a graduate assistant at Alabama, then as linebackers coach at West Georgia, then as outside linebackers coach at Duke, then as a Massachusetts assistant coach, then one year as the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina, then four years at Georgia Tech (including three at defensive coordinator). And now he's at Duke, trying to resurrect a program that has been on life support for years.

Roof is like every other football coach on the planet, he hates to lose. Despises it.

Unfortunately that's all he's been doing since taking over the Blue Devil program in 2003. And he's ready for a change.

"We're going to get there," he said. "The only way to do it is to keep on keeping on and to keep on fighting."

His old head coach certainly believes he'll get the Blue Devils there.

"I'll say this about Ted, he would have been great at anything in the world he decided to do," Johnson said. "I think his love for sports, and with his family background, that (coaching) was just an alleyway for him to choose a profession where he could make a difference in a lot of people's lives."

And hopefully along the way he'll start winning a few more football games.

"I focus on what I know to be true and not on other people's expectations," Roof said. "Nobody puts any more pressure or has any higher levels of expectations for me or our football program than I do. So I stay focused on things I can control and don't worry about things that I can't.

"It takes time to build a football program in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It's not like we play the Little Sisters of the Poor every week ... there's a building process and a growth process that has to occur. And we're in the middle of that."