Bobby Roper, Razorback who won national titles as player and coach, dies at 78

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, October 21, 2021
Bobby Roper was All-Southwest Conference as a defender for the 1965 Razorbacks.
( University of Arkansas Athletics )
Bobby Roper was All-Southwest Conference as a defender for the 1965 Razorbacks.

FAYETTEVILLE — Bobby Roper, who won football national championships as a player at the University of Arkansas and as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, died Wednesday night in hospice care in Raleigh, N.C. He was 78.

Roper, who came to Arkansas from Sherman, Texas, was a starting defensive end on the Razorbacks’ 1964 team that finished 11-0 and shared the national championship with Alabama.

When Pittsburgh won the national championship in 1976 with a 12-0 record, Roper was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for Coach Johnny Majors.

“Bobby was a great contributor to both of those national championship teams, there’s no doubt about it,” said Ken Hatfield, the former Razorbacks coach who was Roper’s teammate at Arkansas. “That’s a heck of a deal to be part of two national championship teams as a player and as a coach, too. That’s a very select group of people, I guarantee you.”

After Roper’s senior season at Arkansas in 1965 when he earned first-team All-Southwest Conference honors, he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Alabama for Coach Bear Bryant. His stops as an assistant coach included Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, where he worked for Majors, an assistant at Arkansas from 1964-67 for Coach Frank Broyles.

Roper also was an assistant coach at Virginia, Oregon State and Texas A&M.

“Coach Majors was a tough coach, so it says a lot that he picked Bobby to be on his staff, that he trusted him that much, and it paid off,” Hatfield said. “Bobby was an excellent coach. I think he was made to coach because he was such a hard worker.

“He wasn’t one of those guys that was gifted with a lot of speed and quickness. But he played hard every down in a game, he worked hard every day in practice and he made everybody he played with more confident, because we could say, ‘Don’t worry about that end spot where Bobby’s playing. It’ll be taken care of.’”

The 1964 Razorbacks outscored their opponents in the final five regular-season games — Wichita State, Texas A&M, Rice, SMU and Texas Tech — a combined 116-0 before beating Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

Arkansas won 17-0 at Texas Tech when the game was 0-0 at halftime after Roper blocked two field goal attempts in the first half.

“It was very, very cold in Lubbock that day,” Roper said in 2014 when the Razorbacks’ celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1964 national championship. “You sure didn't want to get hit by a ball, because it was so dadgum cold, but we had that shutout streak going and I didn’t want Texas Tech to get a field goal and break that streak. That was my main thought at the time.

“As far as I can remember, those are the only kicks I ever blocked. I came off the edge, and they didn't block me either time. They just turned me loose and let me run on in there. I guess they were a little bit slow.”

Hatfield said he never could recall Roper missing a game or practice because of an injury.

“Bobby was one tough hombre, and he was a great teammate,” Hatfield said. “I have so many fond memories of him. He’s going to be greatly missed.”

Two of Roper’s sons followed him into coaching. Kurt Roper is an assistant coach at North Carolina State and Zac Roper is an assistant coach at Duke. Another son, Dan Roper, lives in Fayetteville.

“The family is just A-plus all the way and our hearts and prayers go out to them,” Hatfield said. “Anybody that knew Bobby was blessed to be part of his life, because he was one tremendous person, a great friend, and a heck of a player and coach.”


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