"Auburn has a very rich and storied football tradition," Roof said. "There have been a lot of great players and great coaches come through Auburn University. I am excited about the opportunity Coach (Gene) Chizik has afforded me to help continue to build that tradition.
"Dating back to my days as a player my memories aren't very good of playing against Auburn," he added. "Back when they ran the bone they were the most physical football team we played year in and year out. I made this comment to Coach (Pat) Dye that when you got done playing Auburn it felt like someone took a rubber hose and beat you with it…as a football player you always respect physical teams and teams that hit you in the mouth. Over the years there have been a lot of coaches and great players that have made Auburn very successful. I think an element that always sticks out in my mind when I think of Auburn is physical football."
Having been an outstanding player for Georgia Tech and a defensive coordinator for the Yellow Jackets before becoming a head coach at Duke, Roof has had a chance to build an identity on defense over the years. He did more for that identity last season as he was the defensive coordinator of a Minnesota team that improved 12 points a game and 48 places in total defense from 2007 to 2008. He said his philosophy is a simple one.
"I still think coaching defensive football, even with the evolution of the throwing game, you've still got to be able to stop the run to be able to win football games," Roof said. "I know that's the truth in the SEC. What you've got to do is get people off schedule by being aggressive and going after folks. You try to make teams one dimensional so you can get creative on defense. It's not the schemes that win and lose for you, it's the players that you recruit and develop.
"At the same time you're only going to be as good as your base defense and your fundamentals allow you to be. When you get into a thunderstorm you've got to have a place to call home. The base defense and playing fundamental football and destroying blocks and getting off blocks and tackling and pursuit angles, all those things that seem elementary to some people, are really the difference between winning and losing."
Using his knowledge of the game, Roof helped turn around a Minnesota program that won just one game in 2007. This season the Golden Gophers went 7-6 and lost to Kansas in a bowl game. Much of the reason for that was creating turnovers. Minnesota was 16th nationally in in turnover margin, 11th in caused turnovers with 31 and seventh with 16 fumble recoveries. Roof said that was the focus of the group and it paid off.
"We knew for this particular football team we had to do a good job of creating takeaways," Roof said. "We did that. For about 10 weeks of the season we led the country in that, but dropped off at the end.
"The negative yardage plays, which I alluded to earlier about getting people off schedule, I think we went from somewhere around 116 to the Top 25 in sacks (24th with 33 sacks) and in tackles for losses from somewhere around 100 to the Top 25 (25th with 87). Once again that puts people off schedule. We made some real improvements there and we knew we had to make improvements there to be successful this year."
One bit of good news for Roof's first defense at Auburn is the return of senior defensive end Antonio Coleman. While the loss of Sen'Derrick Marks and Jerraud Powers will sting, Roof said having a player the caliber of Coleman back on defense can do nothing but help. That's especially true in creating negative plays with Coleman's penchant for doing just that during his time at Auburn.
"I heard that those young men decided to declare for the draft, but I think it was huge for our defense that Antonio Coleman is coming back," Roof said. "He's got a national reputation. I'm excited about his future and it's a big plus for our defense to get him back."
Roof said he plans to be in Auburn on Thursday to begin working on his new job. One of the first priorities will be to hit the recruiting trail and try to finish the current class on a high note. Roof said the recruiting part of coaching college football is one thing he really enjoys and he looks forward to continuing that at Auburn.
"As a recruiter I think I'm detailed and thorough," Roof said. "Recruiting is no different than a lot of other businesses where it is built on relationships. I think we work very hard to develop relationships and in the end those relationships are what gets you over the hump.
"I love it," he added. "I also have a great product to sell in Auburn University. Auburn University football I think is a wonderful product. It's one I look forward to jumping into the middle of and getting going."
Roof said he is not personally familiar with any of Auburn's new staff although he has met wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor before. Because of that he said he's not sure how things will work on the staff. That includes whether or not he'll be coaching a position or just a coordinator that helps with every position. Roof said that's something they're still working on.
"Coach Chizik and I have had discussions about that and we're going to continue to work through that," Roof said. "Coach has not made a decision regarding that as I'm aware of."
The final decision may be determined by the rest of the defensive staff hired by the Tigers. With James Willis the only defensive staff member on board in addition to Roof, there are still two spots open on that side of the ball. Roof said those choices will come from Chizik and he looks forward to seeing how the rest of the staff fills out.
"Coach Chizik is the head coach and those are going to be his decisions," Roof said. "I'm just looking forward to getting down there and getting started."