Following a successful season that saw the Slippery Rock University football team compile an 11-3 record while going undefeated (7-0) in conference play, a pair of assistant coaches have announced their departure from the team, taking up positions at two different Division I universities.
Offensive coordinator Justin Roper has accepted the position of quarterbacks’ coach at the University of Northern Iowa, while graduate assistant Billy Fessler, who helped coach the running backs, will join the offensive coaching staff at Mississippi State University, according to a post from Athletic Communication.
Fessler came to The Rock as a first-year coach in 2018 after playing football at Pennsylvania State University. According to Athletic Communication, Fessler was the primary holder at Penn State in 2017.
Fessler helped coach transfer running back Wes Hills, who became one of the most talked about players in Division II football. Hills finished the season first in the PSAC in rushing yards with 1,714 while tied for second with Edinboro’s Walter Fletcher in touchdowns with 17. With the help of Fessler’s tutelage, Hills would go on to receive an invite to the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Collegiate Bowl held at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. Hills would later be named the MVP of the game.
Roper arrived at The Rock in March of 2016, being named the offensive coordinator for a coaching staff that had recently undergone some major changes. Long-time Rock head coach George Mihalik had recently retired, and Shawn Lutz, the then-defensive coordinator, was named to fill Mihalik’s place.
Roper played an intricate part in recruiting quarterback Roland Rivers III to Slippery Rock. Rivers, who transferred to SRU prior to the start of the 2018 season, was not on the coaching staff’s recruitment radar until late in the summer, just weeks before the season was set to begin, Lutz said during a press conference last season.
In an October interview with The Rocket, Rivers highlighted that he was coming off an injury while playing for fellow Division II school Valdosta State University (Ga.), where Roper was employed before The Rock. While weighing his options on whether to transfer or not, Rivers said he and Roper had maintained communication with one another.
“[Roper] coached me at Valdosta State and we always had a good relationship and a good connection,” said Rivers during the interview. “So I wanted to come here and play for him and play for Slippery Rock.”
Roper helped guide a Rock offense that led all teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in points scored with 521; that is 100 more points than West Chester University, who ranked second in that category, according to the PSAC’s website.
SRU’s athletic director Paul Lueken said in a statement released by Athletic Communication that the search to fill the positions of Fessler and Roper have already begun.