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Gators will hire veteran Ron Roberts for defensive staff

GAINESVILLE — Florida is set to hire veteran coach Ron Roberts to help improve the Gators’ struggling defense, the Orlando Sentinel confirmed.

Roberts will serve as executive head coach for defense, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach while reuniting with Austin Armstrong, the team’s 30-year-old defensive coordinator.

Roberts’ hiring was first reported by On3.com’s Matt Zenitz.

The 56-year-old will complete Napier’s 10-assistant staff and fill the opening created when inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman left Dec. 21 to become Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator.

Roberts worked with UF coach Billy Napier during his first two seasons at Louisiana (2018-19). The ’19 Ragin’ Cajuns allowed an average of 19.7 points, ranking 18th among 130 teams nationally.

Roberts spent 2023 as Auburn’s defensive coordinator after three seasons at Baylor under defensive-minded head coach Dave Aranda. The 2021 Bears led the Big 12 with 27 takeaways, including 19 interceptions, and 3 defensive touchdowns as the school won the conference title and beat Ole Miss 21-7 in the Sugar Bowl to finish 12-2.

In ’18 at Louisiana, Armstrong was a graduate assistant and considers Roberts one of the key influences during his young career.

Roberts called Armstrong “a rising star” during an interview with the Orlando Sentinel in July.

The Gators rose to No. 10 nationally in total defense four games into Armstrong’s debut season but soon began to backtrack.

UF closed on a five-game losing streak as the defense yielded an average of 38.2 points. The Gators finished the season allowing 6.44 yards per play, 122nd of 133 teams, and 20 pass plays of 40 longer, more than any team but UNLV.

The Gators forced just 7 turnovers, more than only Temple, while their 22 sacks ranked 101st.

Two days after a 24-15 season-ending loss to unbeaten Florida State, UF parted ways with secondary coach Corey Raymond and defensive coach Sean Spencer. Napier hired Will Harris to replace Raymond and Gerald Chatman to replace Spencer.

Bateman’s sudden departure cleared the way for Roberts’ hiring.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com