Florida Gators hire Ron Roberts as executive head coach, co-defensive coordinator

By OnlyGators.com Staff
January 16, 2024
Florida Gators hire Ron Roberts as executive head coach, co-defensive coordinator

Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier has made a significant staff hire entering Year 3. Former Auburn defensive coordinator Ron Roberts has joined Florida ahead of the 2024 season as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. He also has the title “executive head coach,” presumably for the defensive side of the ball.

What the latter position entails remains to be seen, but Roberts is an experienced defensive leader with two years serving as coordinator under Napier at Louisiana (2018-19). He moved to Baylor from 2020-22 before serving in the same role with Auburn last season.

“We are excited to add one of the best football minds in all of college football to our staff in Ron Roberts,” Napier said in a statement. “Ron is a great teacher and leader, and he has consistently produced and developed quality defensive players and units. His familiarity with our process and veteran experience as a coordinator and head coach will be great for the staff.”

“I’m thrilled to rejoin coach Napier and his staff, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of Gator Nation.” Roberts said. “I’m excited and ready to get to work.”

The Tigers ranked 41st in scoring defense and 45th in total defense after a short turnaround in their first season under Roberts and head coach Hugh Freeze. The Bears were immensely successful on defense across Roberts’ first two seasons, finishing first or second in the Big 12 across most categories in 2021. Baylor fell off a cliff as a program in 2022 with Roberts’ firing seen by many as him being scapegoated. Adding to that belief was Freeze snatching him up almost immediately upon being hired at Auburn.

Napier last offseason hired 30-year-old Austin Armstrong as defensive coordinator after Patrick Toney left Florida for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals following the 2021 campaign. The hiring of Armstrong, who was just weeks into a role as Alabama linebackers coach with no prior Power Five coaching experience at the time, was seen as a reach despite a wide-held belief in Armstrong’s as significant upside in his young career.

Roberts, who has coached football longer than Armstrong has been alive, is basically the architect of the defense Napier wants the Gators to run. Bringing him into the fold would not only serve the Gators well on the field but likely help in Armstrong’s long-term development as a relative neophyte calling defenses at the Power Five level. That’s likely where the “executive head coach” title comes into play.

Roberts has 32 years of coaching experience, including the last four at the Power Five level. Armstrong did not have a position coaching assignment in his first season.

Florida has changed three defensive assistants this offseason. Napier fired secondary coach Corey Raymond along with co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Sean Spencer. The latter immediately landed a position coaching job at Texas A&M with linebackers coach Jay Bateman soon following him to the Aggies as co-defensive coordinator.

The Gators replaced Raymond and Spencer, respectively, with San Diego Chargers assistant secondary coach Will Harris and Tulane assistant Gerald Chatman.

It has long been thought that Florida would make changes to its offensive staff and also add an on-field special teams coordinator. No changes have been made to that end at this time.

Napier also hired New York Giants head strength & conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald to the same role with Mark Hocke, previously in that position, reassigned to a different part of the organization. Before Fitzgerald joined the Giants (2020-23), he led strength & conditioning staffs at Tennessee (2018-19), the Houston Texans (2014-17), Penn State (2012-13), South Carolina (2009-11) and Harvard (2005-09).

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