STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — 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 2003-7, where the Blue Devils went just 6-45. O'Brien was offensive coordinator at Duke from 2005-6.
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 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.